Re:Need help with research….

Pete Giwojna

Dear Brian:

Yes, sir, it is permissible to keep seahorses in a same-sex environment in order to preclude breeding, if that is a priority for you. In that case, I would recommend choosing female Mustangs (Hippocampus erectus)if you are a beginner rather than only stallions, simply because the females are free of some of the conditions that can be bothersome for male seahorses in a same-sex setup.

There are a few different reasons why females generally tend to have fewer health problems in such a setting.

First of all, the physiologically dynamic brood pouch of the males, with its heavy vascularization and increased blood supply, makes them much more prone to the various forms of Gas Bubble Syndrome (GBS) than females, especially when the stallions are in breeding condition or actively breeding. On the other hand, female seahorses are highly resistant to GBS and are very rarely plagued by any forms of gas bubble disease. This is because they lack a marsupium. It is the physiologically dynamic, heavily vascularized, placenta-like brood pouch of the males that makes stallions prone to problems with GBS. This includes bloated pouch and chronic pouch emphysema, but also external and internal GBS. In most instances, such problems are seen almost exclusively in male seahorses.

Breeding males are often especially susceptible to chronic pouch emphysema and GBS in general because of the placenta-like changes that occur in the lining of the pouch during pregnancy. Spongelike, its tissues expand as the capillaries and blood vessels swell and multiply. A film of tissue then forms around each embedded egg, providing it with a separate compartment (alveolus) of its own. The thickening of the wall of the marsupium and elaboration of pouch structures around the implanted eggs result in a dramatic increase in vascularization, and this increased blood supply (hence increased concentration of carbonic anhydrase) transports more dissolved gases to the pouch, increasing the risk of GBS accordingly. The increased blood supply to the marsupium during pregnancy thus makes breeding males increasingly susceptible to the formation of intravascular gas emboli (micronuclei or seed bubbles) at this time, which can result in pouch emphysema and positive buoyancy problems.

Secondly, females obviously never have problems with prolapsed pouches. A prolapse or a partial prolapse of the pouch occurs when part of the lining of the marsupium becomes everted and protrudes through the mouth of the pouch. Prolapses can occur during or shortly after parturition as a result of the birth spasms during a strenuous delivery, or when courting males are performing their vigorous pouch displays and pumping water in and out of the pouch, or as a complication of recurring pouch emphysema.

Thirdly, males must occasionally deal with other complications of pregnancy, such as stillborn young that cannot be expelled, difficult deliveries that can sometimes extend over three or four days, and the inability to cleanse their pouch completely and flush out all the placental tissue fragments after delivering their brood. Pouch bloat can be caused by gas produced by the decay of embryonic material and the remains of placental tissue or other organic matter (possibly even stillborn young) within the brood pouch, if the male is unable to flush it out and cleanse it properly by pumping water in and out during its pouch displays (Cozzi-Schmarr, per. com.).

Finally, on very rare occasions, overly aggressive males may injure one another when sparring for the right to a female. In the aquarium, both males and females compete for mates, but there is a big difference in the way they go about it. Females compete with one another passively, each trying to outdo the other and be the first to attract a mate simply by increasing the intensity of their courtship activities and displays. Their competitive behavior is therefore directed at the eligible males rather than any rival females. Males, on the other hand, compete much more actively and much more antagonistically. Their behavior is often aimed directly at their rival(s) and includes aggressive behaviors such as tail wrestling and snapping or sparring, which are never seen in the fairer sex. In other words, females respond to the presence of rivals by getting more flirtatious, whereas males often react to rivals by getting surly and carrying a testosterone-induced chip on their shoulders.

Snapping is an aggressive maneuver in which the attacker stretches out his head and flicks his snout against his rival with a violent snap, thus delivering a nasty blow to the foe. The snap is often aimed either at the opponent’s eye or gills — the only vulnerable spots on an armor-plated adversary — and the force of a well-directed snap can momentarily stun the unfortunate recipient. On very rare occasions, when these blows are directed at the head, eye injuries can result (mostly in the form of unilateral exophthalmia or Popeye), and persistent bullying can be stressful to the other seahorses.

When deprived of female companionship, male-on-male aggression sometimes increases as the lonely stallions seek an outlet for their growing frustration. But aggression between rival males is very rarely problematic. It’s important to understand that competition for mates is highly ritualized in Hippocampus, and the idea is to always to assert dominance, not inflict bodily harm. Tail wrestling and snapping are forms of ritual combat — little more than glorified shoving matches and tug of wars — with clear-cut submission signals that are always honored. They seldom do any real damage and the combatants are so well protected that serious injuries are virtually unknown when these armor-plated adversaries throw down the gauntlet. In short, intrasexual competition and aggression between stallions sometimes increases in a same-sex setting, but it’s usually nothing to be concerned about and is always extremely interesting to observe. Some hobbyists actually prefer to keep males only, particularly if they have tall tanks that are resistant to gas bubble disease, because the ritualized combat brings out the seldom seen behaviors, increases the activity level in the aquarium, and can be especially fascinating for the aquarist…

So it is fair to say that female seahorses often experience fewer health problems than the stallions, Brian, particularly when kept in the same-sex environment. If you eventually order a couple of seahorses after you have finished your research, obtaining only females (or stallions only) is certainly a viable option. Just use the "Comments" section of the online order form to specify that you want females or males only.

Many hobbyists with relatively shallow aquariums that are prone to problems with GBS will keep only female seahorses, as do many home hobbyists like yourself who do not have the time or resources to devote to breeding and therefore want to prevent their ponies from mating. Most of the time the same-sex setups do very well and the females get along great with no hostility whatsoever. In fact, sometimes the fillies will court with each other and appear to be perfectly content in the company of other females.

There is a slightly increased risk of egg binding when females are kept in a same-sex environment, but I wouldn’t let that deter you. Egg binding is quite uncommon and I have only seen or heard of a handful of cases in all my years, so the risk is really rather remote. In the vast majority of cases, even if a female should ripen a clutch of eggs in the absence of any receptive males — which in itself would be quite unusual —

I must say that I think you are taking the proper approach to this project, Brian — conducting exhaustive research before you take the plunge is one of the keys for success as a beginner with seahorses. Just be sure to include Ocean Rider’s seahorse training program as an indispensable part of your ongoing research before you select a seahorse tank and set it up next spring. It will explain the criteria to look for when selecting a suitable seahorse system as well as how to optimize it to create ideal conditions for your seahorses. So you have a standing invitation to participate in the seahorse training course at your earliest convenience, sir.

My name is Pete Giwojna and I provide tech-support for Ocean Rider ( 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. All newbies are required to complete this basic training to my satisfaction before they can be certified and authorized to purchase Ocean Rider seahorses.

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 your first experience with Ocean Rider seahorses is rewarding and enjoyable.

This basic training is very informal and completely free of charge, Brian. 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. All totaled, the lessons comprise over 180 pages of text with more than 100 full-color illustrations. There is no homework or examinations 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:

Aquarium care and requirements of seahorses;
Selecting a suitable aquarium for seahorses;
size (tank height and water volume)
aquarium test kits
Optimizing your aquarium for seahorses;
water movement and circulation
hitching posts (real and artificial)
Cycling a new marine aquarium;
The cleanup crew (aquarium janitors & sanitation engineers);
Water Chemistry
optimal parameters
water quality & water changes
aquarium maintenance schedule
Feeding seahorses;
Compatible tank mates for seahorses;
Courtship and breeding;
Rearing the young;
Disease prevention and control;
Hippocampus erectus
natural history
professional rearing protocols
Acclimating Ocean Rider seahorses.

If you are interested, Brian, I will be providing you with detailed information on these subjects and answering any questions you may have about the material I present. 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.

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, Brian, 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, Brian, 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 would like to give the training program at try, Brian, please contact me off list ([email protected]) with your full name and the information requested above, and we will get started with your training whenever it’s convenient for you.

Best wishes with all your fishes, sir!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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