If your seahorses are mated pairs, then it would be best to use larger shipping bags and confine the pairs together two at a time while you make the move, rather than separating the pair bonded seahorses, which is always stressful for them. In that case, you won’t need to include anything for them to use as a hitching post since they will intertwine their tails and cling to one another for support.
If your seahorses are not mated pairs, then I would bag them up singly to minimize the amount of metabolic wastes that accumulate in the bags while en route. But I would not include a piece of wood as a hitching post for them to anchor to — it’s very important to avoid putting any rigid objects or objects with sharp edges in the shipping bag due to the danger that it could cause a leak while they were being transported. You don’t want to risk losing your seahorses because their shipping bag was punctured en route and all of the water leaked out!
If you want to include a hitching post for your singles, just a sprig of Caulerpa will work well. Or you could use a length of flexible airline tubing that you have formed into a closed loop using a small section of rigid airline tubing to join the ends together. Otherwise, bag up the solos without any sort of hitching post. They will be better off without anything to anchor to than they would be if you included solid objects that could possibly puncture the shipping bag.
When it comes to moving the aquarium, Hettie, I have to warn you that moving a fish tank from one location to another is a major undertaking that requires careful planning and a great deal of time and effort. Even relocating a small aquarium from one room to another is a painstaking task that can take all day to accomplish, let alone transporting a larger aquarium across town or across the country. Aquariums are fragile objects that were never meant to be portable.
But I know you’re up to the task and there are a couple of other suggestions I would like to share with you that can make the job a lot easier and safer. A good place to start is by reviewing the article in Conscientious Aquarist by Amy Janacek titled "Moving and Transporting Your Livestock and Tanks," which is available online at the following URL:
At the end of the article, you will find links for further discussions on the subject of moving and relocating an aquarium that should also be helpful. After checking out Amy’s article and the relevant discussions, you should be able to tackle the job of moving your aquariums confidently!
It’s also very important to acclimate your seahorses properly after they have been bagged up for 30 hours or more on a long-distance journey. Here are my usual instructions in that regard, which should serve you well when you’re ready to reintroduce the seahorses into their aquarium again following the move:
Acclimating New Arrivals
Acclimating newly arrived seahorses properly after their transoceanic, cross-country journey is absolutely vital. It’s not like acclimating the new specimens you bring home after a quick trip back from your local fish store. The long distances and prolonged transit times involved make proper care of the new arrivals once they finally reach you a far more urgent matter. The reason for this is that all the while the seahorses are en route, they are excreting wastes and respiring in the dark shipping box — consuming oxygen (O2) and giving off carbon dioxide (CO2). That means two things: deadly ammonia is steadily building up in the shipping bag and the pH is steadily dropping, making the water more acidic.
This downward pH shift is actually helpful in that ammonia is less toxic at low pH and becomes much more toxic at higher pH. This is because ammonia exists in water in an equilibrium between two different forms — a nontoxic ionized form usually referred to as ammonium (NH4+) and an un-ionized form (NH3), which is highly toxic. Ammonium (NH4+) is completely harmless to fishes since the ionized ammonia molecule cannot cross the cell membrane and enter their cells. Note that only difference between harmless NH4+ and deadly NH3 is the addition of a hydrogen ion (H+), which converts toxic ammonia to nontoxic ammonium. At low pH, the extra hydrogen ions (H+) of acidic water are readily available to attach to the ammonia molecule, converting most of the ammonia to ammonium: NH3 + H+ —> NH4+. But at high pH, under alkaline conditions, exactly the opposite occurs. At high pH, the abundance of hydroxide ions (OH-) in alkaline water strips the extra hydrogen ion (H+) away from ammonium, rapidly converting most of it to deadly ammonia: OH- + NH4+ —> NH3 + H20. In other words, the higher (more alkaline) the pH, the more ammonia is present in the dangerous un-ionized form (NH3), which easily crosses cell membranes and enters the body.
This should make it easier to understand exactly what is happening in the shipping bag. As the seahorses breathe, consuming O2 and giving off CO2, the pH of the water drops and more of the ammonia (NH3) they produce is assimilated into harmless ammonium (NH4+). So the decrease in pH that occurs during long-distance shipping is actually protecting the new arrivals somewhat — until we open the shipping bag! Once the shipping bag is opened, CO2 begins offgassing from the bag water and fresh O2 begins entering the water, and as the pH begins to rise in response and return to normal, the ammonia in the water becomes increasingly poisonous. And when we begin to add alkaline water with a pH of 8.0-8.4 from the main tank to the shipping bag, we are accelerating the pH shift and converting ever more of the ammonium (NH4+) to deadly ammonia (NH3). The suddenly high concentration of ammonia in the water quickly diffuses into the seahorse’s cells, and acclimating the new arrivals becomes a race against ammonia poisoning just that quickly.
Acclimating farm-raised seahorses properly is therefore the art of achieving the proper balance between two conflicting needs: the need to get them out of the toxic shipping water as quickly as possible and the need to allow them to adjust to tank conditions as gradually as is practical. Drip acclimating the seahorses over a period of hours would expose them to dangerous ammonia levels for an extended period with harmful results, and adding an airline or otherwise aerating the seahorses in the shipping bag while they are acclimating, would likewise increase the levels of ammonia they were exposed to. If all goes well, it’s therefore important for the acclimation process to take no more than 20-30 minutes before your Ocean Riders are released into the main tank.
Whereas drip acclimating is definitely the way to go when you bring home delicate invertebrates that are highly sensitive to water quality from your LFS, such as live corals, starfish, and decorative shrimp, it would actually be quite counterproductive for seahorses that have just arrived all the way from Hawaii.
Here’s how to proceed:
1) Open the shipping box away from any bright lights. Remember that seahorses don’t have eyelids — removing them from total darkness and suddenly plunging them in bright light can be very stressful! Darken the room lights and turn off the aquarium lights before you remove the shipping bags from the box.
2) Float the unopened shipping bag(s) in your tank, or better yet in a clean container filled 2/3 of the way with water from the aquarium, for as long as necessary to equalize temperatures. (Those shipping bags can be dirty and germ laden!) In most cases, 10-15 minutes is all that’s necessary for the temperature adjustment, but during summertime heat waves or winter cold snaps it may take longer than that to equalize the temperature in the shipping bag with the aquarium water. As long as the shipping bags are unopened, you can take as much time as needed for this step of the acclimation process.
3) Once the temperature has been equalized, partially open the shipping bag and check the parameters of the shipping water (temperature, salinity or specific gravity, and especially the pH). Compare those readings to the conditions in the destination tank. That will tell how you quickly you can proceed with the acclimation process. The specific gravity is not that critical. Seahorses tolerate a wide range of salinities and are very adaptable in that regard. If the water in the shipping bag and the water in the destination tank are equal in temperature, fairly close in specific gravity, and within 0.1 of each other in pH, you may introduce the seahorses to the tank right away without the need for any further acclimation. If the temp or pH are slightly off, you can acclimate the seahorses to tank conditions in one or two steps, as described below. And if the temp, pH, or specific gravity is off considerably, you will need to adjust the seahorses to tank conditions carefully in three or more steps.
4) The first of these steps is to add 1 cup of tank water to the shipping bag. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust to any differences in tank water you just added.
5) Do NOT aerate the shipping bag while you are waiting. I know it seems a helpful thing to do, and your first inclination will be to add an airstone or airline to the shipping bag, but that can have disastrous consequences! Aerating the shipping water will accelerate the upward shift in pH and hasten the conversion of harmless ammonium (NH4+) to toxic ammonia (NH3). Aerating the shipping bag during acclimation will thus put the new arrivals at grave risk from ammonia poisoning! Don’t do it.
6) After 10 minutes have elapsed, remove 1 cup of water from the shipping bag and add another cup of water from the tank. Wait 10 minutes to allow the seahorses to adjust, and if they remain undistressed, repeat this procedure again. Judging from how great the initial discrepancy was in water quality parameters, this procedure can be repeated as often as necessary to adjust the seahorses to the tank conditions gradually, but try to complete the acclimation process within 30 minutes after the shipping bag was opened, if at all possible. In general, seahorses tolerate an accelerated acclimation procedure much better than prolonged exposure to ammonia in the shipping bag.
7) Observe the new arrivals closely for any signs of ammonia poisoning throughout the acclimation process. The symptoms to look are a loss of equilibrium, hyperexcitability, increased respiration and oxygen uptake, and increased heart rate. At extreme ammonia levels, fish may experience convulsions, coma, and death. Seahorses exposed to less extreme ammonia levels will struggle to breathe. They will be lethargic and exhibit rapid respiration. They may appear disoriented, periodically detaching from their hitching posts only to sink to the bottom. Don’t panic at the first sign of rapid breathing, but if you detect any of the more serious symptoms of ammonia toxicity, stop acclimating and get the seahorses into the destination tank immediately! Don’t hesitate! Your seahorses will tolerate an emergency transfer far better than they can withstand prolonged exposure to high levels of deadly ammonia in the shipping bag.
8) If all goes well, you can release the seahorses into the destination tank at your leisure following a 2- or 3-step acclimation process. I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer 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. Take care to get as little of the noxious water from the shipping bags as possible into the aquarium when you transfer the seahorses. Discard the impure shipping water when you are finished.
9) Leave the aquarium light off and let the seahorses settle down and adjust to their strange new surroundings at their own speed. Don’t attempt to feed them for the first day. Just give them plenty of room and allow them to settle in and investigate their new home in peace and quiet. Admire them from afar. The next morning you can turn on the aquarium light at the usual time and offer them their first meal.
Don’t let the discussion of ammonia poisoning and shipping stress above worry you. It’s not meant to alarm you in the least, only to explain why it’s important to complete the acclimation procedure quickly (which is why drip acclimating the seahorses is counterproductive and could even be harmful) and what to do in the extremely unlikely event an emergency should arise during acclimation. Ocean Rider stresses the proper acclimation procedure because they have occasionally had a problem in the past with experienced aquarists who felt they knew better and disregarded the acclimation instructions in favor of drip acclimation or a more prolonged process, to the detriment of their new arrivals. In all probability, your seahorses will arrive in excellent condition and not stressed out in the least, and even when shipping stress is a factor, the seahorses typically recover quickly and are back to normal by the following day.
Best of luck with your upcoming move, Hettie! Here’s hoping that your seahorses and aquariums and all your prized possessions survive the move in great shape and come through unscathed.