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Ocean Rider Seahorse Training Program
Yes, sir, a pair of ponies and a suitable aquarium system would certainly make a wonderful Hanukkah gift for anyone with a life-long glob of seahorses, and I would be very happy to help make that a reality for you and your partner.
Okay, Roderick, to help get you started off on the right foot with your seahorse project, I will need you to contact me via e-mail offlist so I can send you the entire Ocean Rider Seahorse Training Manual – all 10 lessons together in one file – in PDF format as an attachment to a return e-mail. You can then download the attachment, save it on your computer, and read through the 10 lessons at your leisure, taking all of the time you need to go over the information and absorb the material. You can reach me at the following e-mail address: [email protected]
As you do so, it will be your job to contact me via e-mail whenever you have any questions or concerns about the material in the lessons, and I will then do my very best to answer all of your questions and clarify everything for you. And I will also be relying on you to keep me updated when you select the aquarium system you will be using, or make any changes or additions to the tank, so that I can keep the information in my records regarding your particular seahorse setup current and accurate at all times. That will allow me to give you the best possible guidance and assistance as you go along.
All we ask in return is that you stick with the highly domesticated Ocean Rider Mustangs or Sunbursts when you are finally ready to add ponies to your tank, Roderick. As you know, Mustangs and Sunbursts are the perfect ponies for beginners and advanced aquarists alike. They are hardy, highly adaptable, easy to feed, and perfectly adapted for aquarium life — the world’s only High-Health seahorses, guaranteed to be free of specific pathogens and parasites.
The seahorse training program is very comprehensive, consisting of several hundred pages of text with more than 250 full-color illustrations, and it will explain everything you need to know in order to keep Ocean Rider seahorses successfully in a home aquarium. We provide a free copy of the seahorse training manual to all first-time buyers and customers to assure that home hobbyists are well prepared to give our ponies the best possible care before they make a purchase. (In other words, sir, it is our version of “Seahorses 4 Dummies.” There is no charge whatsoever for this service.
Be sure to save the PDF file with the seahorse training lessons on your computer for future reference, Roderick. It includes a detailed table of contents with page numbers, so that you can quickly locate the material or section you would like to go back and review at any time.
Just remember that the lessons are for your eyes only, Roderick, with the obvious exception of your partner and any other immediate family members who may be helping you with the aquarium or the care of the seahorses and other fish. Please don’t share the PDF file with the complete training program or the individual lessons with any other hobbyists or individuals without first obtaining my expressed permission to do so. Thanks for your cooperation!
Whether the seahorse tank is glass or acrylic is not important; both types of aquariums will work well for seahorses. But for best results, tall tanks are generally preferable.
If you would like to use a column or a hexagonal aquarium as your seahorse tank, that’s fine, sir, but because the surface area for such vertically oriented aquariums is minimal, you’ll have to be extra careful to make sure the tank has plenty of surface agitation as well as good top-to-bottom water circulation in order to be sure that the tank is well oxygenated and that you don’t have any problems with gas stratification, as explained below in more detail:
Water Circulation for the Seahorse tank
Many seahorse keepers are overly conscious of the inactive life style and limited swimming ability of Hippocampus, and have adjusted their flow rates accordingly, resulting in undercirculated tanks with too little water movement. That’s a serious mistake for a small, close-system aquarium.
In actuality, seahorses prefer moderate water movement, including some areas of brisk current, providing there are also sheltered spots and some areas of relatively slack water they can move to when desired. Slack water means comparatively low flow, NOT stagnant conditions! As with any aquarium, avoid dead spots and stagnant areas in the seahorse tank at all costs (Giwojna, unpublished text).
Contrary to popular opinion, seahorses are quite effective swimmers that can hold their own in strong currents as long as sheltered areas are available (Delbeek, Oct. 2001). I have often discussed this matter with professional divers and collectors who regularly encounter seahorses in the ocean, and they report that the horses are often found where you would least expect them — well offshore and thriving in areas with powerful currents. For example, here is how Paul Baldassano, a commercial diver in New York who makes his living collecting sea urchins, describes the behavior of his local seahorses:
“In regard to seahorses in the wild, I occasionally see Hippocampus erectus in the wild while SCUBA diving but never in the places where they are supposed to be. I see them in the open sea far from shore and also in areas with large rocks and very strong currents. The last one I saw was in a channel off the south shore of Long Island New York in water about 12 feet deep. The current was so strong that I had to hold on to the rocks so as not to be swept away. This Hippocampus erectus was having no trouble staying there munching on the abundant plankton. Apparently they find places near the rocks where there is no current because as you know they are lousy swimmers. There is also a large population of seahorses in a similar area in another part of the New York shore, but I think it is best not to divulge that location for obvious reasons (Baldassano, pers. com.).”
Neil Garrick-Maidment, a very successful seahorse breeder in the UK, reports much the same thing, noting that seahorses in the wild seem to thrive amid strong currents:
“Whenever I have dived on Seahorse sites I have always been amazed by the currents and tides that this very fragile looking Seahorse lives in. We often find Seahorses in flat muddy/silt areas nowhere near rocks or weed. These areas are often scoured by strong currents and the Seahorses do well in them and seem completely unperturbed by the current (Garrick-Maidment, pers. com.). In setting up a tank for them I try to remember the feeling I had in those areas and replicate them. I have now started to use wave surge devices, so that the current in the tank, although strong (they seem to thrive in strong currents) varies in its direction (Garrick-Maidment, Jun. 2002).”
Kirk Strawn, who earned his Master of Science thesis studying Hippocampus zosterae in the field, echoes Neil’s thoughts on the matter:
“The aquarist is not giving his seahorses natural conditions when he keeps them in a still-water aquarium. In nature tidal currents, wind, and waves are usually mixing the well aerated surface film water with the deeper water.”
Likewise, David Warland, a fish farmer and commercial seahorse breeder in Port Lincoln, Australia, reports he often finds Hippocampus abdominalis perching on the tuna net enclosures at the farm in deep water:
“The Horses that are around the farms have traveled vast distances over plain sand/mud to get to the farms, which are in at least 20 meters of water, and are miles from the nearest land or shallow water (Warland, pers. com.).”
And Jorge Gomezjurado, the Senior Aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, recommends the following when it comes to water movement:
“I personally believe that current and water dynamics are very important for Syngnathids. In nature they live in areas with active water movement.(i.e., tides in mangrove lagoons and estuaries, coral reefs, kelp forests, etc.). Why don’t we give them the same environmental conditions in captivity? Our small tanks (90 gallons) have large turnovers on an average of 5 gpm (or 300 gph). It is very important that the current is steady and directionally constant, which allows the animals to find a good spot to hold and they will not be pulling in different directions all the time.”
Most seahorse keepers feel it’s best to keep the current steady and nonvarying so they can find slack-water areas and sheltered spots downcurrent to hold in when they want to get out of the current. The more brisk the water flow, the more important this becomes. However, in a large aquarium with low to moderate water movement, alternating currents should not present much of a problem, and would help to provide good circulation throughout the tank.
You’ll want to adjust the outflow the filters to eliminate any dead spots or stagnant areas where waste products may tend to accumulate. Good circulation will prevent pockets of harmful anaerobic decay and keep particulate matter suspended in the water column where the filters can remove it from the aquarium. Alternating the direction of the water flow is also helpful, as is increasing surface agitation to improve the oxygenation and facilitate more efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface. A simple air stone anchored just beneath the surface of the water can help to achieve this goal.
Using Powerheads for Additional Water Movement
If the external filter(s) do not provide enough water movement to assure good circulation throughout the aquarium, you can position small powerheads in the tank, strategically placed to provide good water flow wherever there might otherwise be dead spots or stagnant areas. Just make sure that the intake for the powerheads is screened off in order to prevent a curious seahorse from getting its tail sucked up by the powerhead and injured.
For example, along with an external power filter, my seahorse setup also has a 200 gph powerhead with a sponge pre-filter positioned right near the top for surface agitation and extra water movement, with additional small powerheads used as needed to eliminate any dead spots along the substrate or behind the rockwork. I like to give my seahorses as much current as they can handle without getting blown around.
You don’t need to use a large, powerful powerhead to improve the water circulation in your seahorse tank. A small unit will generally suffice as long as it’s positioned properly where it’s most needed, and using a device that automatically sweeps the powerhead back and forth will often allow you to produce much better water movement than a much bigger powerhead that is stationary.
Devices that will automatically alternate the water flow in the aquarium by rotating the water flow from side to side include the Power Sweep power heads by ZooMed, the OSCI-Wave by Bell Marine and the Sea-Swirl by Aquarium Currents.
The Power Sweep power heads have an automatic rotating outlet that can be used as a wave maker. They are inexpensive and come in a number of different sizes to suit most every aquarium but need to be well-maintained to keep them in good working order. In short, the Power Sweep powerhead is an automatic self-rotating wavemaker that comes in three different models, each with a different flow rate, measured in gallons per hour (GPH).
Power Sweep 214 – For aquariums up to 30 gallons (114 liters) with a flow rate of 160 GPH
Power Sweep 226 – For aquariums up to 50 gallons (190 liters) with a flow rate of 190 GPH
Power Sweep 228 – For aquariums up to 75 gallons () with a flow rate of 270 GPH
They all have an adjustable flow rate that will allow you get the desired flow for your particular setup, which is ideal for seahorse tank. They will fit all undergravel filter stem sizes and are an excellent addition to a seahorse setup that is filtered with undergravels, and they also come with a pre-filter for the intake and a mounting bracket with suction cups.
The OSCI-Wave uses an electric motor to control a single powerhead. Powered by a small AC motor, this unit is tank rim mounted and hangs a powerhead 4.5″ below the rim of the tank, which it then rotates back and forth. The Bell Marine OSCI-Wave oscillator is a small motor, located inside a 5.5″ long, 3″ wide 2.5″ tall black acrylic box, which is attached to the rim of the tank and suspends a powerhead up to 4.5″ below the surface of the water. The box mounts on the frame of the aquarium with an acrylic bracket with 4 nylon screws. The powerhead of your choice is mounted on a paddle which is attached to a plastic shaft, suspended from the box. The motor, almost silently, sweeps the powerhead in a 90 degree arc every 30 seconds. The manufacturer (Bell Marine) recommends the use of Aquarium Systems Maxi-Jet powerheads, due to their small size for the high velocity output, but it can be used with most powerheads.
The Sea-Swirl is a rotating return device. It uses an electric motor to power the rotating return that oscillates the return water from your existing pump or canister filter 90 degrees every 60 seconds. These units are available in three different sizes, are mounted on the rim of the tank, and cannot be submerged. As a result, the Sea-Swirl agitates only the surface water and can’t be adjusted to point toward the bottom of the tank, which is a limiting factor for these units. They must be used with a separate powerhead, water pump, or canister filter.
All of these devices do a good job of increasing surface agitation and maximizing the water movement provided by a single powerhead to further improve water circulation. Which of them will produce the best results for you, if you need to increase the water circulation in your seahorse setup, depends on how you’ve chosen to set up your aquarium, its size, the equipment you already have, and on your available budget. For example, the units that are mounted on the rim of the aquarium can be difficult to mount on a tank with a full aquarium hood. If your local fish store does not carry them, just do a Google search for any of these devices and you will find numerous outlets that offer them online.
Improving the water circulation and surface agitation to increase the oxygenation will raise the levels of dissolved oxygen in the aquarium while eliminating excess CO2 via more efficient offgassing. You may notice that your seahorses become more active and have a better appetite, eating more aggressively, as a result, and elevating the levels of dissolved oxygen and reducing the levels of dissolved CO2 will also help to raise and stabilize the pH of the aquarium at the same time. This is important because the pH of the aquarium tends to drop over time, and low pH can be a contributing factor for gas bubble syndrome.
Providing good water circulation and surface agitation to improve the oxygenation and promote more efficient offgassing at the air/water interface is especially important for seahorses because of their primitive gills. Unlike most teleost (bony) fishes, which have their gills arranged in sheaves like the pages of a book, seahorses have rudimentary gill arches with small powder-puff type gill filaments. Seahorses are said to have “tufted” gills because they appear to be hemispherical clumps of tissue on stems. Their unique, lobed gill filaments (lophobranchs) are arranged in grape-like clusters and have fewer lamellae than other teleost fishes. Because of the difference in the structure and efficiency of their gills, seahorse are unusually vulnerable to hypoxia when CO2 levels are high and/or O2 levels are low, so the diligent seahorse keeper will take full advantage of the measures we have discussed above to improve the dissolved oxygen levels in the aquarium.
The point is that, as long as slack-water retreats are available, the greater seahorses can tolerate far more current than most folks suspect and good circulation is as important for a seahorse setup as any other aquarium. What seahorses lack as swimmers is not agility, but rather stamina (Evans, 1998). They can hold their own against strong currents, but not indefinitely, so low flow areas where they can move out of the current and hold when they want to rest must be provided in addition to good circulation.
In short, if your filtration is not turning over the entire volume of the aquarium a MINIMUM of 5 times per hour, your seahorse setup is undercirculated. With a spray bar return raised above the surface of the water to diffuse the outflow, you can safely achieved much higher turnover rates (> 10 times per hour) without producing too much turbulence or current for seahorses in a tall tank. A waterfall return is another good way to diffuse the output from your filter, and also works well for seahorses. There will be an area of relatively vigorous water movement at one end of the aquarium underneath and nearby the waterfall, while the other end of the tank is a relatively low flow area. (By the same token, however, if the filtration system in your seahorse tank is turning over the entire volume of water much more than five times per hour, it may be too overpowering for the seahorses unless it is diffused by a spray bar or waterfall return.)
As with anything, too much of even a good thing can be undesirable, and too much current can overwhelm the limited swimming ability of Hippocampus. One indication that you may have too much water movement in your seahorse tank is if the seahorses are getting buffeted around by the currents, and whisked away uncontrollably when they tire of fighting the current. Or alternatively, they may stay perched in one place all the time and refuse to swim around and explore their tank for fear of getting swept away by the current if they relax their grip on their hitching posts. So you can get a pretty good gauge of how well the seahorses are able to cope with the water movement than their tank by observing how the current affects the swimming ability.
Likewise, if a mated pair of seahorses is consistently spilling eggs during the copulatory rise, that’s another pretty good indication that there may be too much turbulence or water movement in the upper reaches of their aquarium.
If the seahorses are having difficulty tracking their prey and eating because the current whisks the frozen Mysis past them too quickly to target it accurately and slurp it up, that’s another red flag. Often that situation can be corrected simply by adjusting the output from your filter to reduce the current during feeding time or turning it off altogether while the seahorses are eating.
But as long as your seahorses aren’t getting buffeted around, aren’t routinely dropping eggs during disrupted mating attempts, and aren’t having difficulty targeting their prey and eating, there’s really no such thing as too much water movement. In general, the stronger the water flow, the more important it is to keep the water currents steady and unvarying so the seahorses can establish holding areas in the sheltered spots and low-flow zones without getting blindsided by unpredictable currents. Just make sure your seahorses are not getting trapped against overflows and be sure to screen off the intakes for any powerheads. Powerheads can be switched off at feeding time, if necessary.
The Importance of Surface Agitation
Because the height of the aquarium is an important consideration for a seahorse tank in order to allow the seahorses to mate comfortably during the copulatory rise and to protect them against depth-related conditions such as gas bubble syndrome, many seahorse keepers opt for tall hexagonal or column tanks rather than the usual rectangular aquarium setups. That’s just fine and hex tanks and column tanks can work very well for seahorses providing they are large enough and the aquarist is careful to provide them with good surface agitation in order to assure good oxygenation.
That’s important, because the amount of dissolved oxygen in an aquarium is dependent primarily on three factors: the surface area of the tank, the water circulation in the aquarium, and the amount of surface agitation in the tank. Gas exchange takes place only at the air/water interface or surface of the aquarium, which is where clean oxygen enters the aquarium water and dissolved carbon dioxide is off-gassed, leaving the aquarium. The greater the surface area of the aquarium, the more efficient this gas exchange will be, and the higher the dissolved oxygen levels and the lower the dissolved CO2 levels will be as a result. Not only does keeping the levels of dissolved oxygen high and the levels of dissolved carbon dioxide low make it easier for the seahorses to breathe, it also helps to stabilize and maintain the pH and prevent it from falling. Likewise, good circulation throughout the aquarium will prevent dead pockets or stagnant areas, assuring that all the water in the aquarium passes over the surface for gas exchange on a regular basis. Surface agitation is important because no gas exchange can take place unless the surface tension of the water is broken. Therefore, the better the surface agitation, the more efficient gas exchange becomes and the better the aquarium will be oxygenated.
This is where vertically oriented aquarium such as hexagonal tanks and column tanks are at a disadvantage. The surface area of such tanks is restricted, much reduced from the surface area of a standard rectangular tank of equal water volume. Hex tanks and column tanks thus have less surface area for gas exchange to take place, and it is very important for such tanks to have good aeration and surface agitation to compensate for this drawback. This is especially vital for the seahorse keeper, because our seagoing stallions are very vulnerable to low levels of dissolved oxygen (and high levels of dissolved carbon dioxide) because of their primitive gills structure. So if you will be using a hexagonal aquarium or column design for your seahorse tank, it’s especially important to you to provide good water circulation and surface agitation.
Employing wave makers, devices that automatically alternate the direction of the water flow, and using small powerheads to supplement water movement are all the more important when you are using a tall column tank or hexagonal aquarium. Ordinary airstones and bubble wands can also be helpful for providing surface agitation and improving water circulation, and they will do your seahorses no harm whatsoever as long as they produce relatively coarse bubbles and are positioned where the bubbles cannot be drawn into the intake for the water pumps or filters. Just keep the airstones, air bars, or bubble wands relatively shallow in tall tanks – no more than 20-30 inches deep, and they will help to maintain high dissolved oxygen levels while helping to prevent gas supersaturation.
Without devices such as these to maintain good water circulation from the top of the tank to the bottom of the tank in a vertically oriented aquarium (e.g., hex tanks or column tanks), the dissolved gases in the aquarium can become stratified. When the aquarium water cannot mix efficiently from the bottom of the tank to the surface of the aquarium, stratification will occur, with the highest levels of dissolved oxygen and the lowest levels of dissolved carbon dioxide near the top of the tank, where gas exchange takes place, and the lowest level of dissolved oxygen and the highest level of dissolved carbon dioxide building up near the bottom of the aquarium, where the seahorses tend to hang out. That is not a healthy situation for the aquarium or for the seahorses and their primitive gills, which makes efficient circulation crucial for a tall tank with a restricted surface area.
For these reasons, it’s important for the seahorse keeper who uses a hex tank or column tank to monitor the levels of dissolved oxygen on a regular basis to make sure they remain nice and high. Don’t just sample the water at the top of the tank – be sure to test the dissolved oxygen levels in the water at the bottom of the tank where the seahorses will be spending most of their time as well! We will discuss the use of test kits to monitor dissolved oxygen in more detail in Lesson 4.
In general, it’s a very good idea for seahorse keepers to take special precautions when using powerheads or internal circulation pumps in a seahorse tank in order to assure that a curious seahorse does not get its tail injured or damaged by the impeller for the powerhead/pump. Basically, this just means that whenever the intake for a powerhead pump is large enough to allow an unsuspecting seahorse to get its tail inside, it’s a good idea to shield or otherwise screen off the intake, regardless of how strong the suction may be, just to be on the safe side. Often this merely involves positioning the powerhead amidst the rockwork or anchoring it in place with the suction cup where there’s no possibility for a seahorse to perch on the powerhead or wrap its tail around the inflow/intake for the unit.
When that’s not possible, you may need to take more elaborate measures in order to screen off the intake from the pump are powerhead to make it safe for the seahorses, Roderick.
For example, here’s how to proceed when using the Hydor Koralia powerheads, which are relatively safe compared to other types of powerheads. For one thing, since they are not impeller-operated, the intake or suction is fairly weak compared to a normal powerhead, and there is therefore no danger that a curious seahorse will have its tail injured by an impeller. Secondly, the “egg” or basket-like structure that covers the powerhead often offers sufficient protection so that an adult seahorse really cannot injure its tail. For example, the gaps in the Koralia 1 are only 1/8 of an inch wide, which is too small for grown seahorse’s tail to fit to the gaps.
Just to be on the safe side, some seahorse keepers will encase the entire egg for a Koralia powerhead in a veil-like material, especially if they have smaller ponies, as explained below:
“I have a Koralia that works great in my anemone tankI have a Koralia that works great in my anemone tank(no seahorses). Just in case I bought a piece of Tulle (bridal veil material) to cover it. I got the purple tulle that looks just like coraline algae. Just cut it into a square and put it over the Koralia and secure the ends with a zip tie. Think of it like a lollipop wrapper-if the pump is the lollipop the tulle is the wrapper and instead of twisting the paper at the bottom like a lollipop you secure with a zip-tie. I have H. fuscus and H.barbouri and they could definetly hitch on the Koralia (and I have the nano) The pump still works great and nothing can get in it.”
The Tulle trick will work just as well for screening the intakes of other types of powerheads or circulation pumps as well, and the bridal veil material is not so fine that it will easily get clogged up or impede the flow through the device.
Best wishes with all your fishes, Roderick!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Training Program Advisor