Pete Giwojna

Dear Captain:

Moving an aquarium 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. All of the water save for a couple of inches needs to be removed from them before they are moved, and you must take special precautions in order to preserve your biofilter and maintain the beneficial nitrifying bacteria throughout the move. Maintaining the fish and invertebrates in good condition and reacclimating them to the aquarium after the move without subjecting them to temperature fluctuations and ammonia spikes is another matter altogether.

In order to avoid any adverse impact when you relocate the seahorses during the move, Captain, the main thing is to handle the seahorses with all due care and to take precautions to make the move as stress-free as possible. Separating and relocating seahorses to strange new surroundings is always a stressful experience for them, so you want to take whatever steps you can to minimize that stress and assure that the move goes smoothly.

When you’re transferring the seahorses, keep them in a clean bucket filled with saltwater from their aquarium so all the water quality parameters are the same as what they’re used to and keep them together throughout the move so that they’re not separated from their partners/tankmates at any point. Make sure the bucket includes suitable hitching posts for the seahorses to attach to and to provide them with a sense of security. Use battery operated air pumps connected to airstones via a length of airline tubing to keep the water in the bucket (and your biological filtration media) well-aerated and oxygenated throughout the move and do your best to minimize sloshing the water around while en route.

When handling seahorses, I do not like to use an aquarium net to transfer or manipulate my ponies, 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.

Seahorses have also been transported long distances successfully using breathable bags. The bags that have been used successfully are Kordon Breathable bags ( These bags do much better for long distances than the standard bags with oxygen. No oxygen is added to these bags, and the top of the bag is tied off at the surface of the water. Seahorses shipped this way do not get sloshed out of the water in transit and do not accidentally ingest air from snapping at the water line in the bag. So the breathable bags are another option for transporting the seahorses and will work well if you can obtain them. Bag the seahorses individually unless they are mated pairs. In that case, be sure to transport the male and female in the same breathable bag since it is stressful for a pair-bonded seahorse to be separated from its mate.

However, if the move is going to take more than a few hours, then I prefer to use aerated buckets to transport the livestock instead. A battery operated air pump equipped with an airstone is indispensable for occasions like this. Some of the battery operated air pumps that use 2 D cells and are designed for keeping live bait for fishermen can run for up to 4 to 5 days and can drive 2 to 3 airstones. Not only will they be handy during your move, but they are also wonderful for aquarists to have on hand in case of power outages and brownouts.

As for the aquarium itself, there are two reasons why an aquarium is usually emptied except for a couple of inches of water before it is moved. The first of these is simply because even a modest aquarium is too heavy to move when it’s full of rockwork and water (water weighs roughly 8.3 pounds per gallon and of course the weight of the live rock and the tank itself are added to the burden you’ll be carrying). Due to its shape and smooth surface which makes it an unwieldy object to handle, when an aquarium is being relocated, it is therefore usually necessary to remove almost all of the water and the decorations beforehand in order to make it manageable load.

The second reason this is done is to reduce the chances that the aquarium will spring a leak or crack while it is being transported. If you leave the water and rockwork in the aquarium while you attempt to movement, chances are great that the glass can crack or a leak can develop due to the abrupt change in pressure as the water level shifts and sloshes about while it is being carried or transported. If the aquarium is an acrylic tank, then that’s not really a factor, but glass aquaria are susceptible to breakage and leaks if they are not emptied before they are moved. The chances of a leak or a crack taking place increase greatly if the aquarium cannot be kept reasonably level all the while it is being moved. And even acrylic aquariums can be severely damaged if transported with the decorations inside due to the scratching that can result.

For these reasons, it is usually best to empty the aquarium of water save for a couple of inches before it is moved, and you must take special precautions in order to preserve your biofilter and maintain the beneficial nitrifying bacteria throughout the move. Unless it’s a very short move, you must be careful to keep the live rock and biological filtration media moist (immersed is best) and oxygenated throughout the move.

Save the water you siphon out of the aquarium prior to relocating it, and it can be used to refill the aquarium once it’s in place at its new destination.

Those are some of the things to keep in mind when you are planning on relocating an aquarium, Captain!

Best wishes with all your fishes, sir!

Happy Trails!
Pete Giwojna

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