Re:Gas Bubble Diesease

Pete Giwojna

Dear Oriana:

Sure thing, you certainly may add a bubble bar or two to your seahorse tank. Bubble wands, air bars, and airstones are all perfectly acceptable and even desirable in a seahorse tank as long as you keep them no deeper than about 20 inches, as explained below. You will find that your seahorses like the tactile stimulation provided by the air bubbles and enjoy basking and playing in the bubble stream, and adding an airstone or bubbler to your seahorse tank is an excellent way to provide good oxygenation and surface agitation to facilitate efficient gas exchange at the air/water interface.

Gas bubble syndrome (GBS) is not caused by coarse air bubbles in the aquarium water, such as are produced by airstones and bubble wands and the like. Rather, GBS is the result of microscopic gas emboli forming internally within the blood and tissue of the seahorse, which can happen under certain circumstances that are completely unrelated to the type of bubbles produced by a bubble wand or air bar.

So if you want to put an airstone or bubble bar along the back wall of your aquarium to increase the circulation and help oxygenate the water, that’s okay too as long as it is no deeper than 20 inches and your male seahorses don’t make a habit of performing pouch displays while they are basking in the bubble stream.

There are two potential concerns regarding bubbles in the seahorse tank, Oriana. The first and most important of these is gas supersaturation. If the aquarium water become supersaturated, gas emboli can form in the blood and tissues of the seahorses, resulting in various forms of gas bubble syndrome (GBS). However, airstones, air lifts, bubble wands and the like are only a concern in that regard if they are submerged deeper than about 20 inches in the aquarium. Shallow airstones cause no such problems and are fine to add to your seahorse tank.

However, airstones, air lifts, bubble wands and the like can sometimes cause problems with gas supersaturation if they are too deep because they will cause gas to dissolve in water to match the ambient pressure (the current atmospheric pressure) PLUS the pressure of the water column above the stone. If they are immersed at a depth greater than 20 inches, the pressure of the water column above them may be sufficient to cause gas supersaturation of the water, especially when there is little atmosphere/water interface (Colt & Westers, 1982). For example, Robin Weber found that airstone submerged in reservoirs 3 feet deep produced low-level gas supersaturation at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The airstones produced supersaturation at a level of about 104%, and the only cases of GBS she has ever observed at the aquarium occurred in the most supersaturated exhibits. So just keep your bubble bar relatively shallow — no deeper than 20 inches — and it cannot result in gas supersaturation. In fact, the surface agitation the air bubbles provide will actually help to prevent gas supersaturation by promoting efficient gas exchange at these air/water interface, thus assuring that the level of dissolved gases in the aquarium is in equilibrium with the ambient air pressure.

Provided they are kept relatively shallow, airstones and bubble wands pose no risk of gas supersaturation. But they can occasionally present a different problem to courting males, which is the second concern seahorse keepers need to be aware of.

When courting, male seahorses perform a maneuver known as ”Pumping,” in which they inflate their brood pouches to the bursting point and alternately pump water in and out of the dilated opening with their tails anchored to a holdfast. Troubles arise when bubbles are drawn into the brood pouch during this process, causing buoyancy problems. This often happens when a courting male attaches itself to the airline tubing connected to an airstone and begins pumping in the stream of bubbles. For instance, Dr. Amanda Vincent found ”It’s a good idea to hide airstones. Seahorses are subject to many buoyancy problems that may result from or be exaggerated by sitting in airstone bubbles. This problem is especially prevalent around courtship periods and occurs if males dilate the pouch opening in air streams (Vincent, 1995b).”

Such events are very rare in my experience, and I have never seen an instance in which a courting male entrapped any air bubbles while playing in a bubble stream. In fact, I suspect that the vast majority of such reports are mistaken, and that the buoyancy problems sometimes developed by males in breeding condition are almost always the result of chronic pouch emphysema, rather than air bubbles being inadvertently drawn into the pouch during their vigorous pouch displays. Indeed, if a courting stallion did accidentally draw any air bubbles into his pouch along with the water while "Pumping," he would expel them on his own when he pumped the water out of his pouch again the next instant.

So those are the only two circumstances in which air bubbles are a cause for concern in seahorse setups, Oriana. Providing your bubble bar is kept relatively shallow and that courting males aren’t habitually basking in the air stream, then it can do your seahorses no harm whatsoever if they want to take a quick Jacuzzi bubble bath.

By all means, go ahead and add the bubble bars to your seahorse tank, Oriana. Just keep them no deeper than 20 inches for the reasons we have been discussing above and you should have no problems.

Pete Giwojna

Post edited by: Pete Giwojna, at: 2008/09/10 19:07

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