Re:encouragment

#5230
Pete Giwojna
Guest

Dear Maui girl:

I’m sorry to hear that you were misinformed by the staff at your local fish stores in Ohio, but I suspect that you are quite correct — they are no doubt inexperienced with regard to seahorses and chances are good they are largely unaware of the vast differences between difficult-to-keep wild caught seahorses and the hardy, adaptable captive-bred-and-raised seahorses. But you have come to the right place to get good, solid, well-informed advice regarding seahorses and I would be very happy to help you sort through some of the confusion.

First of all, let’s discuss some of the reasons why highly domesticated seahorses, such as Ocean Rider Mustangs and Sunbursts, are such superior aquarium specimens compared to wild seahorses that have recently been removed from the ocean.

Delicate wild-caught seahorses are indeed challenging to keep and raise; they are best reserved for expert aquarists with the knowledge and resources to meet their demanding requirements. Hardy captive bred seahorses that are trained to eat frozen foods, on the other hand, are very much at home in the aquarium and are relatively easy to care for. More home hobbyists are able to breed and raise cultured seahorses such as Mustangs successfully than any other type of marine fishes.

Farm-praised seahorses have been born and bred for aquarium life for generation after generation. They are at home in the aquarium, accustomed to eating readily provided frozen foods as their staple diet, and used to living in close proximity to others of their kind. Wild-caught seahorses, on the other hand, are starting out with the deck stacked against them and find captive conditions very unnatural and highly stressful. They have been abruptly snatched from their natural environment, wrenched apart from their mates, starved while they make the rounds from collector to wholesaler to retailer to hobbyist, and exposed to all manner of pathogens and parasites at every stop along the way. They are accustomed to eating live foods and, with the patchy distribution typical of all Hippocampines, they rarely encounter seahorses other than their mates in the vastness of the sea. As a result, wild-caught seahorses typically have considerable difficulty adjusting to aquarium conditions, unnatural foods, and living in constant contact with other seahorses.

Consequently, when farm-raised seahorses first became available a decade ago, it quickly became evident that they were superior to their wild conspecifics as aquarium specimens in every respect. Vastly superior! In every way. In terms of their hardiness, ease of maintenance, disease resistance, longevity, adaptability, suitability for the captive environment, willingness to breed in the aquarium, genetic diversity, vigor, friendliness and sociability, coloration, and especially their feeding habits, they put wild seahorses to shame. No contest. Generations of selective breeding have transformed cultured seahorses into far different animals — a whole new breed — than wild seahorses. Compared to their wild-caught cousins, the captive-bred-and-raised seahorses are far more fun, much easier to keep and far more convenient to care for, and generally more attractive specimens as well.

In short, the advantages of farm-raised, captive-bred seahorses over wild-caught specimens are many, obvious, and compelling. For starters, let’s examine their different feeding habits. Before captive-bred specimens were available, one of the seahorse keeper’s greatest challenges was providing wild-caught seahorses with a balanced, nutritious diet, stemming from their reliance on hard-to-provide live foods. Meeting their long-term needs was a difficult, expensive proposition. It required numerous live food cultures, rigorous field trips to collect live foods, and special training sessions to try to teach them to eat frozen foods, which often proved to be a prolonged, highly frustrating exercise in futility.

By comparison, feeding farm-raised seahorses is simplicity itself. Raised in captivity, all captive-bred seahorses are pre-trained to eat frozen Mysis shrimp as their staple diet. Frozen Mysis relicta have an extremely high protein content, and when fortified with special enrichment products rich in highly unsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids, Vitamins C and A and essential minerals, it provides a highly nutritious diet that contains all of the crucial components necessary for the long-term health of the seahorse. In my opinion, the best of these enrichment products is a dry powder formulation (i.e., Vibrance) especially developed in Hawaii to provide a balanced diet for seahorses when used in conjunction with the protein-rich frozen Mysis. A nutritious diet of enriched, frozen Mysis relicta thus ensures long-term survivability, high health, high mating frequency and beautiful, vibrant colors in our pampered pets.

In fact, this is such a superb diet that it is strongly suggested that the aquarist "fast" his seahorses one day per week, and feeding live foods is totally unnecessary except as a monthly treat. Contrast a trip to your refrigerator twice a day to thaw frozen Mysis, and no feeding at all once a week, with the collecting expeditions, live food cultures, and painstaking training procedures required to sustain wild-caught seahorses and wean them onto frozen fodder, and you can see there is really no comparison.

But to me, the most striking difference between cultured seahorses and wild specimens has always been the increased hardiness of the former. Captive-bred seahorses simply enjoy a huge advantage over their wild-caught brethren in terms of their health, disease resistance, and conditioning, and that naturally translates to greater longevity in the aquarium. To understand why they are so much hardier and healthier, we must examine how cultured seahorses and seahorses captured from the wild are handled before they reach the hobbyist. It is largely a matter of stress. In a nutshell, captive-bred-and-raised seahorses are not stressed by aquarium life and are not abused en route to the aquarist, and that makes all the difference in the world in terms of their fitness and lifespan in captivity.

When you place an order for Ocean Rider farm-raised seahorses, they are then delivered overnight directly to your door from Hawaii’s state-of-the art aquaculture facility, and thus reach the consumer well fed and in optimum condition. They arrive disease-free and relatively unstressed, at the peak of their health and coloration. This gives them a huge headstart over wild-caught seahorses, which are often beat up during capture (specimens taken in trawls, for example, often suffer considerable wear and tear during the collection process) and mishandled at various stops along the way to your local fish store (LFS). By the time they finally arrive at your local dealers, wild-caught seahorses may already have spent a long time in the collector’s holding tanks followed by an indefinite stay at a wholesaler and a high-risk respite at your local retailers, and have been exposed to all manner of pathogens and parasites at every stop along the way (Bull and Mitchell, 2002). Due to their need for live foods, they are very likely to have gone unfed during this entire period, and they may have become malnourished by the time they reach your neighborhood fish store (Bull and Mitchell, 2002). And because they were taken from coastal waters, wild seahorses are frequently infested with a variety of pests and parasites ranging from sea lice (Argulus sp.) to nematodes, parasitic copepods and hydroids. Upon arrival, they will need to be quarantined for a period of several weeks, since they may also be carrying disease pathogens such as fungus, Vibrio, or deadly Glugea (Bull and Mitchell, 2002). Captive-raised, high-health Ocean Rider seahorses pose no such problems.

The greater adaptability of captive-bred and reared seahorses is another big plus. Ocean Rider cultured seahorses have now achieved a high level of domestication. They are pre-adapted to aquarium conditions and pre-trained to eat easily provided frozen foods. Because they are raised at much greater population densities than seahorses experience in nature, captive-bred specimens are accustomed to living in close quarters and withstand crowding much better than wild-caught ‘horses. Consequently, farm-raised seahorses have little difficulty adjusting to life in a captive environment. By contrast, field studies show that, in the wild, seahorses have a distribution pattern that can best be described as patchy, meaning they are few and far between, and that a female typically enjoys a home territory of up to 100 square meters (Vincent and Sadler, 1995). It stands to reason that wild-caught seahorses may have a more difficult time acclimating to life in captivity than farm-raised ponies that are literally born and bred for life in the aquarium. And that means that wild-caught seahorses will be under more stress in captivity, at least initially (Giwojna, May 2002).

This was most evident when captive bred seahorses first became readily available around the turn of the century. In those days, it was customary for many hobbyists to maintain wild-caught and captive-bred specimens side-by-side in the same tank, since they already had wild seahorses and eagerly added farmed-raised ponies to their herds when they were first offered by breeders. Very often, when disease outbreaks occurred in such setups, the wild specimens were all lost while the captive-bred seahorses emerged unscathed, or if they developed symptoms, were able to fight off the affliction and recover none the worse for wear.

The bottom line is that captive bred and raised seahorses are simply hardier, more disease resistant, easier to maintain and longer lived in captivity than their wild-caught counterparts. They reach the hobbyist well fed, in peak condition, and already accustomed to aquarium life and frozen foods (Giwojna, May 2002). On the other hand, wild-caught seahorses typically arrive at your local fish store in poor shape, suffering from near starvation and the trauma of capture (Bull and Mitchell, 2002). Mishandling combined with malnutrition stresses these animals and impairs their immune systems, making them prone to disease (Bull and Mitchell, 2002; Lidster 2003).

This means that wild seahorses often have a difficult time adjusting to aquarium conditions, don’t tolerate crowding as well, and will most certainly have problems adjusting to frozen fodder or any other easily provided foods. They will need live foods for an indefinite period while they struggle to make the transition to strange foods and the captive environment, and will be stressed out in the interim (Giwojna, May 2002).

In short, Maui girl, wild-caught seahorses can be hard to keep and often do die quickly in the aquarium. But that is not at all the case with highly domesticated Ocean Rider seahorses that have been born and bred for aquarium life for many generations and are now supremely well adapted for life in captivity.

Essentially, when they begin working with a particular species, Ocean Rider’s approach is to obtain sufficient broodstock from throughout their range to completely eliminate any concerns about inbreeding, and then to pair males and females from different bloodlines in order to achieve intraspecific hybridization. That way, each pairing actually increases the genetic diversity of the offspring, and providing you avoid brother-sister crosses when you subsequently select your breeders for the next generation, each new generation will actually be strengthened (more genetically diverse than their parents) through the phenomenon of hybrid vigor.

This is especially true considering the primary traits Ocean Rider selects for are adaptability, disease resistance, vigor, aggressive feeding habits, and rapid growth. Far from being recessive characteristics that could eventually result in inbreeding, these are all adaptive traits that increase the line’s fitness and improve survivorship. In fact, they are the same sort of traits Mother Nature herself selects seahorses for in the wild to assure survival of the fittest. When nature culls out the weakest and least fit, it is known as "natural selection." It is nature’s way of keeping a species strong, vigorous, and adaptive (i.e., evolving to better fit its niche). The only difference is that Mother Nature is selecting for suitability to their natural habitat, whereas aquaculturists are selecting seahorses for fitness to captive conditions. In both cases, the selection process assures that the specimens become ever stronger and better adapted to their environmental niche, whether that is the aquarium or the ocean itself.

Practiced in this manner, selective breeding actually strengthens and improves a strain generation by generation, producing seahorses that are progressively hardier and better suited for aquarium life. This level of domestication not only improves their general health but also eliminates much of the stress wild seahorses experience in captivity, allowing cultured seahorses not only to live longer but to live better.

Initially, the breeders’ goal is not to rear the maximum number of offspring from each brood, but to assure that the weaker offspring are weeded out at every stage, and that only the fittest fry are selected for further rearing. As a result, it typically takes Ocean Rider several generations to strengthen a new line of seahorses in this manner before it is ready to bring to market.

It’s a good system: a multigenerational approach to rearing which assures that farm-raised seahorses will only continue to get stronger, hardier, and more trouble free over time as they become ever better adapted to aquarium conditions

When you consider that Ocean Rider has been working with Hippocampus erectus since 1998, producing dozens of generations of Mustangs and Sunbursts, each more genetically diverse than its predecessors, it’s easy to understand why they are so hardy and well adapted to aquarium conditions.

If it’s been a year or two since you tried captive-bred seahorses, you owe it to yourself to acquire a pair of new specimens — you won’t believe the advances that have been made in such a short period! Not only are there many new captive-bred species and color varieties to choose from, the current edition of the well-established Ocean Rider lines will have undergone a few more generations of strengthening and development in that time, and the improved animals will now be that much hardier as a result. And if you have never tried captive-bred seahorses before, it’s time to take the plunge — you will be amazed at the difference between the captive-bred specimens and the delicate wild-caught seahorses you’re accustomed to keeping. Seahorse keeping is now a whole new ball game, much more user friendly and eco-friendly, and it’s time you joined in the fun!

If that’s not enough encouragement for you, Maui girl, consider some of the other factors that make cultured seahorses so much fun to keep and so popular with aquarists.

To begin with, some hobbyists are simply fascinated by the outlandish appearance, complex behaviors, and surprising habits of these amazing animals. They get a kick out of having a pet that’s truly a marvel of nature, an anatomical oddity to top them all. These are the aquarists that are bored by average, everyday, run-of-the-mill specimens that are pet-store staples. They’re always on the lookout for something new and different, something extraordinary. When it comes to fishkeeping, they favor the oddballs over the ordinary, and the elevated curiosity quotient of these marine marvels is what attracts them about seahorses. There’s a little of that childlike wonder in all of us. Heck, what red-blooded American kid wouldn’t give his two front teeth to keep such curious critters for pets?

Others are attracted by the legendary status of the seahorse. They’re captivated by the chance to keep a fabled beast of mythical proportions that seems more like something out of a fairy tale or a Disney movie than a real, flesh-and-blood animal. For them, a seahorse tank is the next best thing to having a genuine unicorn or keeping winged Pegasus himself in their living room. There’s still a little of the enchanted kingdom in every seahorse keeper, too. Everyone would like to believe in magic, and Hippocampus is living proof that some fairy stories do come true.

Many aquarists are excited by the challenge of breeding and rearing these legendary livebearers. Seahorses are easy to sex, they pair up and mate in captivity readily, and their fry are relatively easy to raise compared to other marine fishes. There is nothing more rewarding than a tankful of healthy, homegrown Hippocampus and many hobbyists feel that seahorse husbandry is the key to assuring their ongoing survival. The prospect of culturing these captivating creatures is thus the clincher for many enterprising individuals.

And a lot of seahorse lovers find it especially satisfying to keep a fish that can become a true pet. Seahorses are real personality fish and many of them actually enjoy being handled. Unlike most other fish that back off when you approach the aquarium and flee in terror if you place your hand in the tank, seahorses soon learn to recognize their keeper and will come out to meet you. They quickly learn to take food from your fingers, and having your pet ponies literally eating out your hand is a very rewarding experience. When one of these shy, enchanting creatures — whose very survival in the wild depends on concealing itself from predators at all times — comes trustingly up to the surface to eat right out of your palm, it’s a thrill you won’t soon forget. The training sessions and daily feedings required for this tend to forge a close, personal relationship between the aquarist and his charges, and hand-fed seahorses often become special pets. Many times they will even include you in their daily greeting, flashing their recognition colors and parading back and forth and at the front of the tank, performing their dancelike displays for your benefit.

As a result, seahorse keeping can sometimes become an addictive hobby. I know many hobbyists that have developed flat-nose syndrome from keeping their faces pressed up against their seahorse tanks so they don’t miss any of the action. Aquarists who can’t quite tear themselves away from their tanks sometimes refer to their habit of seahorse-gazing as "watching the seahorse channel" because it’s by far their favorite show. Aside from their daily interactions, the colorful courtship displays and amazing mating habits of the seahorse are outstanding spectacles for anyone to behold.

Okay, Maui girl, that explains the irresistible appeal of seahorses as aquarium specimens and why you can be confident that Ocean Rider seahorses will thrive in the aquarium when given proper care. I would be happy to share a few tips with you with regard to setting up a suitable aquarium for Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus).

For best results with these seahorses, when you set up the aquarium strive to maintain stable water conditions within the following aquarium parameters at all times, which are ideal for Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus):

Temperature = optimum 72°F-75°F (22°C-24°C).
Specific Gravity = range 1.022 – 1.026; optimum 1.0245
pH = range 8.0 – 8.4; optimum ~8.2
Ammonia = 0
Nitrite = 0
Nitrate = range 0-20 ppm; optimum 0-10 ppm

Unless you will be keeping one of the miniature breeds of farm-raised seahorses, such as Hippocampus zosterae, H. breviceps, or H. tuberculatus, it’s best to start with the largest aquarium you can reasonably afford and maintain (the taller, the better). In general, a tank of at least 40 gallons (150 L) is preferable if you’re an inexperienced aquarist since that’s the size when one begins to see significant benefits in terms of the greater stability a larger volume of water can provide. An aquarium of 40-gallons or more will be more resistant to overcrowding and to rapid fluctuations in temperature, pH, and salinity than smaller setups. The larger the aquarium the larger the margin for error it offers the aquarist and the greater the benefits it provides in terms of stability.

It is equally desirable to select an aquarium at least 20-inches high when keeping the greater seahorses. They need the vertical swimming space to perform their complex mating ritual and successfully complete the egg transfer, which is accomplished while the pair is rising through the water column or drifting slowly downwards from the apex of their rise. If the aquarium is too shallow, eggs will be spilled during the transfer from the female to the male’s brood pouch, and mating becomes increasingly difficult or impossible below a certain minimum depth. A tall aquarium can also help protect the seahorses from depth-related health problems such as bloated pouch and certain forms of Gas Bubble Disease.

When it comes to the filtration system, pumps, and aquarium equipment, Maui girl, just stick with whatever you are comfortable with or are accustomed to using in the past. Specialized filtration equipment is not required in order to keep seahorses successfully. As long as the filters provide sufficient biological filtration to maintain good water quality and provide sufficient water movement, seahorses can thrive in an aquarium using simple air-operated sponge filters or undergravel filters, or with standard off-the-shelf hang-on-the-back filters or canister filters, or using biowheel filters or sophisticated wet/dry trickle filters, or in tanks where live rock and/or algae filters provide all of the biological filtration. Supplemental filtration devices such as protein skimmers, UV sterilizers, ozonizers, denitrators, etc., have their place and purpose in certain seahorse setups, but they are strictly optional and not mandatory in any sense of the word.

If you are confused about the filtration system and whether or not a particular filter is suitable for use on a certain aquarium or not, Maui girl, then your best approach may be to purchase a complete aquarium system that includes all of the filtration and equipment you need built into one package.

As one example, for more information on complete aquarium systems that have been designed specifically for seahorses, see the assortment of seahorse tanks available from MyFishTank.com at the following URL:

<http://www.myfishtank.com/&gt;

They are beautifully designed aquarium systems that have the superior height (24 inches) and many of the features that are so desirable for a seahorse system. For example, they include a built-in a 3-in-1 filtration system with a wet/dry trickle filter that accommodates biological, chemical and mechanical filtration media, as well as built-in aquarium heater and an optional Clear-for-Life™ Venturi protein skimmer, all neatly contained and hidden behind a narrow false back. It also comes with a suitable hood and aquarium light, so it includes all of the equipment you need in one aquarium system. That’s an excellent filtration system for a seahorse setup!

If you are new to seahorse keeping, then the smallest tank I would suggest you consider is a 30-Gallon Tall aquarium. In that case, for a very affordable aquarium with excellent height and reasonable size, the tank I recommend in that size range is the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H). Any local fish store can special order one for you from All Glass Aquariums and it’s an economical tank with very good height for seahorses at 24-inches tall. You can then equip it with a simple, standard, off-the-shelf glass cover and an ordinary off-the-shelf strip reflector with a daylight florescent bulb, and that can form the basis of an inexpensive yet very solid seahorse setup for a pair of medium Sunbursts. That’s a seahorse tank that you can set up for a fraction of the cost of the complete aquarium packages designed especially for seahorses at MyFishTank.com.

When you order the 30 gallon Extra-High All-Glass Aquarium (24"L x 12"W x 24"H) from your LFS, it will come complete with the glass cover and strip reflector/light fixture or a hood for the unit, if you request it, so you won’t need to round up those items separately.

The new "plug-and-play" complete aquarium systems are also becoming increasingly popular with marine aquarists because their convenient design includes everything you need to get a new aquarium up and running, including the lighting, filtration system, aquarium hood and accessories, and equipment, all built into one neatly designed tank, ready to go right off the shelf. This eliminates the need to do any drilling or modifying of the tank before hand and does away with any concerns that the protein skimmer or filter or light fixture that you pick out will fit properly on the tank and do an adequate job, making these new plug-and-play aquarium systems very easy to install and operate. But most of the plug-and-play biocubes and nano tanks have one big drawback when it comes to keeping seahorses, and that is that they are all designed with the reef keeper in mind. As a result, they typically include high intensity lighting systems and powerful circulation pumps that provide the type of illumination and strong water circulation that many live corals require in order to thrive. Unfortunately, seahorses do best under somewhat different conditions, preferring low to moderate light levels and moderate water movement with some areas of relatively low flow where they will not have to fight the current constantly. Worst of all, the high intensity lighting included in the biocube and nanocube reef systems tends to cause problems with overheating, and seahorses have very little tolerance for heat stress. For these reasons, the biocube and nanocube reef setups are not a good choice for the seahorse keeper and should generally be avoided.

But Red Sea Max has come out with a terrific new plug-and play aquarium system that is a notable exception. It is known as the "Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium," and it is loaded with wonderful features that make it a very adaptable aquarium system. For one thing, it includes an excellent lighting system that will work well for seahorses, complete with two Power Compact lamps (one regular and one actinic), as well as moonlights, with a 24-hour programmable timer for turning both the main lights and moonlights on and off, built right into the Hood Control Panel. Outstanding! That will make it easy to provide your seahorses with a simulated dusk and dawn, which is always a bonus for a seahorse tank.

The moon lights are a sort of night light designed especially for fish tanks. Seahorses in particular often appreciate the moon lighting and respond positively to it. Mating in some seahorses with pelagic fry is synchronized to coincide with the highest tides (hence moon phases), so the moon lights may even help stimulate breeding as they are said to do with some types of corals.

The Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium measures 24"L x 20"W x 23.8"H, giving it the extra height that is so important for a seahorse tank. One other feature of this new aquarium system that I especially like is the Power Center or Main Control Panel. It keeps all of the cords for the various pieces of equipment organized and out of the way, and provides separate switches for controlling each of the main components in the filtration system: two separate switches for the aquarium pumps (one switch for each circulation pump), one switch for the protein skimmer, one switch for the lights, and one switch for the heater. That’s very important because it allows you to operate one of the circulation pumps (i.e., have its switch turned on) and not the other circulation pump (leave its switch off), controlling the amount of water flow and circulation in the aquarium.

That’s crucial because the only thing I don’t like about this particular set up is that with both of the circulation pumps on, the filtration system will turn over the entire volume of the aquarium 10 times every hour. That’s great for live corals, but would create powerful water currents that can overpower the limited swimming ability of seahorses. The ideal amount of circulation for a seahorse tank is a filter that turns over the entire volume of the aquarium approximately 5 times per hour, which is exactly what the Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium would produce if you leave one of the circulation pumps turned on and one of the pumps turned off. That makes it easy to provide your seahorses with just the right amount of water movement and circulation when using this innovative plug-and-play aquarium system.

Another nice feature of this aquarium system is that it includes three cooling fans in the hood to help prevent overheating. With one of the circulation pumps turned off, the aquarium system will generate even less heat, making it that much easier to keep the aquarium cool.

Best of all, the Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium is available with a classy stand designed specifically for this particular tank as well as a Max Starter Kit, which includes 15 lbs Coral Pro Salt, Hydrometer, Nitro Bac bio starter, and an upgraded Marine Lab master test kit with Alkalinity Pro test, Calcium Pro test lab, Magensium test lab, Coral Buff, Calcium & Magnesium Supplements. This makes it even easier for a newcomer to get this aquarium system set up and running properly, since he or she can purchase the Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium along with the aquarium stand and Max Starter Kit, and wrap up his aquarium shopping with a single purchase.

All things considered, the Red Sea Max 130D Plug & Play Coral Reef System 34 Gallon Aquarium provides another good option for seahorse keepers to consider. The complete system, including stand and Max Starter Kit is available online at the following website and many others:

http://www.drsfostersmith.com/product/prod_display.cfm?pcatid=19849

Especially nice for beginners, the aquarium kit comes complete with a 55-minute instructional DVD to guide the hobbyist through the setup and maintenance of the Red Sea Max 130D Reef Aquarium System described above, making it even easier for hobbyists to get the tank up and running properly.

But the most important tip I can give you, Maui girl, would be to participate in the Ocean Rider seahorse training program before you take the plunge. As you know, my name is Pete Giwojna and I provide tech-support for Ocean Rider (seahorse.com). Part of my duties in that regard include providing a quick training course for new Ocean Rider customers and first-time buyers to get them up to speed on the aquarium care and requirements of seahorses. In other words, the training program is ideal for hobbyists like yourself who are considering seahorses and are looking for the best available information on the subject.

The purpose of this training is twofold: (1) to assure that the hobbyist has a suitable aquarium, completely cycled and with the biofiltration fully established, ready and waiting when his seahorses arrive, and (2) to assure that the hobbyist has a good understanding of the aquarium care and requirements of Ocean Rider seahorses by the time he or she has completed the training and been certified. All of which will help to ensure that things go smoothly and that the home aquarist’s first experience with Ocean Rider seahorses is rewarding and enjoyable.

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge, Maui girl. Ocean Rider provides the free training as a service to their customers and any other hobbyists who are interested in learning more about the care and keeping of seahorses. It’s a crash course on seahorse keeping consisting of 10 separate lessons covering the following subjects, and is conducted entirely via e-mail. There is no homework and there are no examinations or classes to attend or anything of that nature — just a lot of good, solid information on seahorses for you to read through and absorb as best you can, at your own speed. The training course consists of a total of over 180 pages of text with more than 100 full color illustrations, broken down into 10 lessons covering the following subjects:

Lesson 1: Selecting a Suitable Aquarium & Optimizing It for Seahorses.
Tank dimensions and specifications (why height is important);
Tank location and aquarium stressors;
Setting up a SHOWLR tank to create ideal conditions for seahorses;
filtration options
protein skimmers
UV sterilizers
titanium grounding probe
substrate
lighting
water circulation
Test kits for monitoring water quality;
Aquascaping the seahorse tank;
artificial hitching posts
macroalgae
Basic aquarium setups for seahorses;
undergravel filters
sponge filters

Lesson 2: Cycling a New Aquarium & Installing the Cleanup Crew.
The nitrogen cycle;
nitrification and denitrification
Step-by-step instructions for cycling a new marine aquarium;
Seahorse-safe sanitation engineers and aquarium janitors;
snails
microhermit crabs
cleaner shrimp
Starter seahorses (hardy, highly domesticated, high-health ponies)

Lesson 3: Reading Assignments (books, articles, and columns devoted to seahorses).

Lesson 4: Water Chemistry, Aquarium Maintenance, & Maintaining Optimum Water Quality.
Basic water quality parameters (acceptable range and optimum levels);
ammonia
nitrite
nitrate
pH
specific gravity
dissolved oxygen
Advanced water chemistry for reef keepers;
Performing partial water changes to maintain good water quality;
Aquarium maintenance schedule;
daily
weekly
monthly

Lesson 5: Feeding Seahorses.
Frozen Mysis serves as their staple, everyday diet;
brands of frozen Mysis
thawing and preparing frozen Mysis
enriching with Vibrance
Recommended feeding regimen;
how to tell if your seahorse is getting enough to eat
Feeding tips for seahorses;
preparing and serving the frozen Mysis
feeding new arrivals
secretive feeders
morning feedings
setting up a feeding station
training the seahorses to use a feeding tray
artificial feeding stations
natural feeding stations
purchasing a ready-made feeding station
elevating the feeding station
fasting seahorses
target feeding
handfeeding
Mysis relicta from Piscine Energetics
Broadcast feeding or scatter feeding — just say no!

Lesson 6: Compatible Tankmates for Seahorses.
Safe and unsafe companions — no guarantees;
Tropical tankmates;
fish to avoid
seahorse-safe fish
seahorse-safe invertebrates
Feeding seahorses in a community tank;
Seahorse-proofing a reef tank
safe corals
unsafe corals
lighting the seahorse reef
managing water circulation for a seahorse reef

Lesson 7: Courtship & Breeding.
Courtship displays in Hippocampus (fully illustrated)
brightening
tilting and reciprocal quivering
carouseling
promenading
pouch displays (pumping and ballooning)
pointing
copulatory rise and the egg transfer
Pair formation
Morning greetings
Male brooding — a true pregnancy
Giving birth — dawn deliveries

Lesson 8: Raising the Young.
Seahorse fry
Determining ease of rearing
Setting up a basic nursery for benthic babies
Advanced nursery tank options for pelagic fry
the shaded nursery
kriesel and pseudokreisel nurseries
the divided nursery
in-tank nurseries (illustrated)
the greenwater "starter" nursery
hyposalinity for pelagic fry
Delivery day
Culling the fry (if necessary)
Feeding the fry
hatching and enriching brine shrimp (Artemia)
decapsulated brine shrimp eggs
culturing rotifers and copepods
Fry feeding schedule

Lesson 9: Disease Prevention and Control.
Captive bred vs. wild-caught seahorses
Importance of High-Health seahorses
Seahorse anatomy illustrations
external anatomy
internal anatomy
Screening seahorses from your LFS
Quarantine tank
Quarantine protocol for pet-shop ponies and wild seahorses
Beta glucan boosts immunity to disease
Early detection of health problems
aquarium stressors
disease symptoms in seahorses
What to do at the first sign of a health problem
The seahorse-keepers medicine chest
first aid kit for seahorses
must-have medications to keep on hand
properties of the main medications
Life expectancy
Hepatic lipidosis (prevalence of fatty liver disease)
Seahorse disease book

Lesson 10: Mustangs and Sunbursts (Hippocampus erectus) & Acclimating New Arrivals.
Nature of Mustangs and Sunbursts
multi-generational approach to rearing
hybrid vigor
genetic diversity
selective breeding
Hippocampus erectus species summary
scientific name and common names
meristic counts and morphometric measurements (illustrated)
climate and distribution
color and pattern
breeding habits
breeding season
gestation period
brood size
pelagic/benthic fry
onset of sexual maturity
ease of rearing
natural habitats and natural history
preferred parameters and aquarium requirements
suggested stocking density
successful rearing protocols
feeding the fry
nursery tank designs
rearing and grow out tanks
diet and nutrition
color variations
temperature requirements
wide ranging species with different races
recommended reading
Acclimating new arrivals (step-by-step instructions)
Keeping and culturing red feeder shrimp (Halocaridina rubra)

The seahorse training program is a correspondence course that is conducted entirely via e-mail, Maui girl, and if you would like to give it a try, I will be providing you with detailed information on all of the subjects above and answering any questions you may have about the material I present so that everything is perfectly clear to you. I will also be recommending seahorse-related articles for you to read and absorb online.

In short, the training course will teach you everything you need to know to keep your seahorses happy and healthy, and it will arm you with the information you need in order to tackle your first ponies with confidence. It will explain how to set up a new aquarium and optimize it to create ideal conditions for your seahorses.

How long this training will take to complete depends on your experience level as an aquarist to a large extent. For example, if you have never kept seahorses before and you do not already have a suitable saltwater aquarium up and running, it will take at least eight weeks for your training and preparations to be completed before you can be certified. It will take that long to learn the basics of seahorse keeping, set up a suitable aquarium, cycle the tank from scratch to establish the biological filtration, and optimize the tank to create an ideal environment for seahorses. Only then can you be certified ready to receive your first seahorses.

On the other hand, experienced marine aquarists and hobbyists that have had seahorses before and already have a suitable saltwater aquarium up and running can be certified much more quickly. I will run through the same basic information with them, but most of the information I provide will be familiar material for such hobbyists and they should be able to review it and get up to speed quickly, plus they should have well-established aquariums ready, fully matured that they can fairly quickly adapt in order to make them more ideal for seahorses. In a case like that, certification can be completed as soon as they have absorbed the material I provide and are confident they have a good grasp of the specialized requirements and aquarium care of the seahorses.

So in order to get started, Maui girl, the first thing I need to know is how experienced you are with saltwater aquariums. Have you ever kept a marine aquarium before? If so, how long have you been involved with the saltwater aquarium hobby? Do you have one or more marine aquariums up and running at this time? If so, how long have the tanks been in operation?

Do you have an aquarium up and running at this time that you intend to use as a seahorse tank? If so, can you please describe the aquarium system you will be using for your seahorse tank? How large is the aquarium (length, width, and height)? What kind of filtration equipment is installed and running on the aquarium? What type of lighting system does the tank you? How long has the proposed seahorse tank been up and running? Please list all of the current inhabitants of the aquarium you will be using as your seahorse tank, if any.

If not, if you don’t have an aquarium for your seahorses as of yet, Maui girl, that’s just fine. I will be providing you with lots of recommendations and options in that regard so that you can pick out a tank that is just right for your needs and interests. And I will be working with you personally every step of the way until your new aquarium is ready for seahorses and you are well prepared to give them the best of care, regardless of how long that may take.

If you want to give the training program a go, just contact me off list with a brief e-mail that includes the information requested above sent to the following e-mail address: [email protected]

Be sure to include your full name (first and last), which I need for my records, and I will then enroll you in the free training course and send you the first lesson right away. (Since the training program is a correspondence course, we need to establish e-mail communication before we can proceed.)

Best of luck with your ongoing research on seahorses, Maui girl!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna


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