Re:hazy/cloudy water quality

Pete Giwojna

Dear Kay:

Thank you for getting back to me with the additional information.

No, I don’t think you’re just being paranoid at all. The yawning behavior that precedes the shaking, and the attempts to scratch her head using her tail suggest a potential problem with ectoparasites or gill flukes. The shaking and scratching are a response to an irritation, and most of the time external parasites are the cause of the irritation.

But the trend is good — the fact that the seahorses are shaking less often now and that the scratching is very sporadic indicates that the situation is stable or perhaps improving.

If the shaking or scratching persists, I am going to recommend a simple treatment consisting of a freshwater dip followed by an extremely brief dip in methylene blue for the affected seahorses. This can help cleanse them from ectoparasites or gill flukes and provide them with some immediate relief.

Here are the instructions for performing the dips, if necessary, Kay:

Step 1 — Freshwater Dip

A freshwater dip is simply immersing your seahorse in pure, detoxified freshwater that’s been preadjusted to the same temp and pH as the water the seahorse is accustomed to, for a period of at least 10 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). It doesn’t harm them — seahorses typically tolerate freshwater dips exceptionally well and a 10-minute dip should be perfectly safe. Freshwater dips are effective because marine fish tolerate the immersion in freshwater far better than the external parasites they play host to; the change in osmotic pressure kills or incapacitates such microorganisms within 7-8 minutes (Giwojna, Dec. 2003). A minimum dip, if the fish seems to be doing fine, is therefore 8 minutes. Include some sort of hitching post in the dipping container and shoot for the full 10 minutes with your seahorses (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

If you will be using tap water for the freshwater dip, be sure to dechlorinate it beforehand. This can be accomplished usually one of the commercial dechlorinators, which typically include sodium thiosulfate and perhaps a chloramine remover as well, or by aerating the tap water for at least 24 hours to dissipate the chlorine (Giwojna, Dec. 2003).

If you dechlorinate the dip water with a sodium thiosulfate product, be sure to use an airstone to aerate it for at least one hour before administering the dip. This is because the sodium thiosulfate depletes the water of oxygen and the dip water must therefore be oxygenated before its suitable for your seahorse(s). Regardless of how you detoxify the freshwater for the dip, it’s important to aerate the water in the dipping container well beforehand to increase the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. Many hobbyists leave the airstone in the dipping container throughout the procedure.

Adjusting the pH of the water in the dipping container so that it matches the pH of the water in the aquarium is a crucial step. Ordinary baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) will suffice for raising the pH of the water. If there is too much of a difference in the pH, there is a possibility the seahorse could go into shock during the dipping procedure. Preadjusting the pH will prevent that from happening. If you will are unsure about your ability to accurately adjust the pH in the dipping container, avoid this procedure altogether or be prepared to monitor the seahorse very carefully or shorten the duration of the tip to no more than about 4 minutes.

Observe the horse closely during the dip. You may see some immediate signs of distress or shock. Sometimes the horse will immediately lie on its side on the bottom. That’s a fairly common reaction — normal and to be expected, rather than a cause for concern, so don’t be alarmed if this happens. Just nudge or tap the seahorse gently with your finger if it lies down on its side. Normally, the seahorse will respond to the slight nudge by righting itself again and calm down for the duration of the dip. However, if it does not respond, stop the treatment.

Most seahorses tolerate the treatment well and experience no problems, but if you see continued signs of distress — twitching, thrashing around etc. — stop the treatment.

After you have completed the dips and returned the seahorses to the aquarium, save the dip water and examine it closely for any sign of parasites. The change in osmotic pressure from saltwater to freshwater will cause ectoparasites to lyse (i.e., swell and burst) or drop off their host after 7-10 minutes, and they will be left behind in the dipping water. Protozoan parasites are microscopic and won’t be visible to the naked eye, but some of the other ectoparasites can be clearly seen. For example, monogenetic trematodes will appear as opaque sesame seeds drifting in the water (Giwojna, Aug. 2003) and nematodes may be visible as tiny hairlike worms 1/16-3/16 of an inch long. Other parasites may appear as tiny dots in the water. Freshwater dips can thus often provide affected seahorses with some immediate relief by ridding them of these irritating pests and can also aid their breathing by flushing out gill parasites.

Step 2 — Methylene Blue.

Follow the 10-minute freshwater dip with a very brief (5-10 seconds — no more than 10 seconds maximum) dip in a solution of methylene blue between 30-50 ppm, as described below. Prepare the solution of methylene blue using saltwater from your seahorses tank ahead of time, before you do the freshwater dip, so you can dip the affected seahorses in the meth blue for 5-10 seconds one by one right after you have given each of them their freshwater dip. Time that very short Methylene blue dip closely — keep the seahorse in your hand while you dip her in the blue so there’s no fumbling around to capture her when time’s up — pull her out after 5-10 seconds and immediately return her to the main tank with the other seahorses afterwards.

If you can obtain the Kordon brand of Methylene Blue (available at most well-stocked local fish stores), their suggested treatment protocol for treating external parasites as a dip is as follows:

For use as a dip for treatment of external parasitic protozoans:
(a) Prepare a nonmetallic container of sufficient size to contain the fish to be treated by adding water similar to the original aquarium.
(b) Add 5 teaspoons (24.65 ml) per 3 gallons of water. This produces a concentration of 50 ppm. It is not recommended that the concentration be increased beyond 50 ppm.
(c) Place fishes to be treated in this solution for no longer than 10 seconds.
(d) Return fish to original aquarium.

See the following link for more information on treating with Kordon’s Methylene Blue:
Click here: KPD-28 Methylene Blue

If your methylene blue is not Kordon (KPD-28) Methylene Blue, Kay, then disregard the instructions above and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for using your brand as a bath or dip instead.

Methylene blue transports oxygen and aids breathing. It facilitates oxygen transport, helping fish breathe more easily by converting methemoglobin to hemoglobin — the normal oxygen carrying component of fish blood, thus allowing more oxygen to be carried through the bloodstream. This makes it very useful for treating gill infections, low oxygen levels, or anytime your seahorses are breathing rapidly and experiencing respiratory distress. This makes it a very helpful medication to use its gill parasites or gill flukes are affecting the breathing of the seahorses. It is the drug of choice for treating hypoxic emergencies of any kind with your fish.

In addition, methylene blue treats fungus and some bacteria and protozoans. Methylene blue is effective in preventing fungal infections, and it has antiprotozoal and antibacterial properties as well, by virtue of its ability to bind with cytoplasmic structures within the cell and interfere with oxidation-reduction processes. In short, methylene blue is a "must" for the seahorse keeper’s fish-room medicine cabinet.

Hopefully, the freshwater dip followed by the 5-10 second dip in methylene blue will relieve the seahorses’ irritation and put a stop to the shaking and scratching once and for all. If not, we can treat your seahorse tank with a good antiparasitic (e.g., praziquantel, Parinox, or metronidazole) or hyposalinity, if the problem persists.

Here are some precautions to keep in mind when handling the seahorses for the dips:

Handling Seahorses

I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate seahorses, since their delicate fins and snouts can become entangled in the netting all too easily. I much prefer to transfer the seahorses by hand. Simply wet your hand and fingers (to avoid removing any of the seahorse’s protective slime coat) and scoop the seahorses in your hand. Allow them to curl their tail around your fingers and carefully cup their bodies in your hand to support them while you lift them out of the water. When you gently immerse your hand in the destination tank, the seahorse will release its grip and swim away as though nothing out of the ordinary has happened.

Composed of solid muscle and endowed with extraordinary skeletal support, the prehensile tail is amazingly strong. Indeed, large specimens have a grip like an anaconda, and when a 12-inch ingens or abdominalis wraps its tail around your hand and tightens its hold, its vise-like grip is powerful enough to leave you counting your fingers afterwards!

In fact, it can be quite difficult to remove an attached seahorse from its holdfast without injuring it in the process. Never attempt to forcibly detach a seahorse from its hitching post! When it feels threatened, it’s instinct is to clamp down and hold on all the tighter. When you must dislodge a seahorse from its resting place for any reason, it’s best to use the tickle technique instead. Gently tickling the underside of the tail where it’s wrapped around the object will usually induce the seahorse to release its grip (Abbott, 2003). They don’t seem to like that at all, and will quickly let go to move away to another spot. Once they are swimming, they are easy to handle.

I would also like you to acquire your own set of test kits so that you can monitor your water chemistry at home, Kay, rather than bringing water samples into your local fish store to be analyzed. If you’re going to be keeping a saltwater aquarium, you really need to have all of the basic test kits and use them regularly in order to maintain the water quality parameters within the recommended range. When a problem arises, you need to be able to determine immediately if the water chemistry is off so that you can respond right away and correct the problem as quickly as possible. That’s not practical if you need to run a water sample down to your LFS, which isn’t always open (emergencies always seem to arise after business hours or on the holidays), and many times delaying the necessary adjustments or treatments can have fatal consequences for the fish.

Test Kits to Monitor Water Quality

If you don’t already have them, you’re going to need to obtain a set of basic test kits in order to cycle your new tank, monitor conditions in your aquarium, and keep track of the water quality. The basic test kits you’ll need to keep track of the aquarium parameters are ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and pH plus a hydrometer to check specific gravity and an aquarium thermometer (if you don’t have one already). You’ll need to get separate test kits for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, and pH, and I recommend Aquarium Pharmaceuticals or Salifert kits for saltwater, which are fairly economical. I also like the SeaTest hydrometers — convenient, easy to read, and relatively reliable, if used properly. Here’s a list of what you’ll need for starters:

Ammonia test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals);
Nitrite test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals);
Nitrate test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals);
pH test kit for saltwater (by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals);

or the Salifert Nitrogen Cycle Package of test kits (Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, & pH)

Click here: Salifert Test Kits:

The SeaTest hydrometer has a simple swing arm to measure the specific gravity of the aquarium and allow you to see how salty it is. You just fill the hydrometer with aquarium water, tap it to make sure there are not any air bubbles clinging to the swing arm, and the pointer will then indicate the current specific gravity in the aquarium. A reading of anywhere between 1.022-1.026 is acceptable, with 1.0245 being optimal.

The test kits I mentioned above for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate and pH are simple-to-use colorimetric tests. You just fill a small vial with aquarium water, add the prescribed amount of drops from the test solution, shake the vial until it changes color, and then compare the color of the water with a color comparison chart after waiting a certain amount of time in order to determine the level of ammonia or nitrite or nitrate or pH of the water. You will be using the ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate regularly while your aquarium cycles in order to keep track of the cycling process, as explained below:

A test kit to measure the levels of dissolved oxygen is also useful for seahorse keepers. The Tetra Oxygen Test Kit (TetraTest 02) is a good liquid reagent test kit for fresh or saltwater with simple color scales for comparing readings that tests for 02 in the range of 2-14 ppm (the optimum dissolved O2 level is 6-7 ppm). It will cost you between $8.50 to $14 depending on where you shop and should be available at any well-stocked LFS. Salifert also makes a nice 02 Test Kit (their 02 Profi-Test) that will run you about $20.

Also, Kay, please do look up copies of The New Marine Aquarium by Michael: that I recommended in my earlier post as soon as possible. It will be enormously helpful in helping you to maintain a successful marine aquarium.

Best wishes with all your fishes, Kay!

Pete Giwojna

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