Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm and Tours | Kona Hawaii › Forums › Seahorse Life and Care › Recently departed – but awaiting new arrivals
- This topic has 3 replies, 2 voices, and was last updated 15 years, 8 months ago by Pete Giwojna.
September 27, 2007 at 12:57 am #1279eamberMember
Aloha! My wife and I recently had our oldest seahorse depart us (we originally had three). The information on this website is amazing and informative. He had GBS, but I believe it developed into a more serious matter, which in turn took his life. This forum has educated me even more to better serve and nurse our favorite marine species.
I have noticed that our middle child (Sunburst) seems upset. He is not eating as much, but is nibbling alittle. He seems depressed….is that possible? The younger one, which is so friendly and playful with us, is doing just fine. I have noticed that our Percula Clowns (two of them) have gotten smart and acquired a taste for the mysis we put into the bowl. Maybe this could also be upsetting him. We are prepared to remove them from the tank if necessary. Our local fish store would gladly accept them.
We are awaiting a pair of mated Sunburst this Friday and want to resolve the issue prior to it becoming a problem.
– Do we acclimate the new sea horses the same as any other marine animal? If not, where can I get the instructions?
– Will they recognize the turkey baster that we use to fill the food bowl? I believe you use something similar at your facility.
Just for profile purposes. We have had our tank cycled for a few years now. Tested regulary and we have R/O unit that produces our water that we change every 3-4 weeks.
We have in our 75 gallon tank (that is 22\" high):
2 Percula Clowns
2 Yellow Clown Gobies
1 black stripped Pipe Fish
1 bi-colored Gobie
1 Yellow Sea Fan
Metallic Star polyps
Macro Algae (long hair)
Our sump and tank is fertile with Copepods
one Feather Duster
Plenty of Coraline Algae
I leave the Blue Anetic Light on from 8:00 – 8:00 and the White light on from 12:00 until 4:00pm
My wife are going out today to look for another 75-90 gallon tank that is a little deeper around 28\" high….
Sorry for all the questions…..Aloha ..>Ed & JessicaSeptember 27, 2007 at 5:52 am #3821Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Ed & Jessica:
Your 72-gallon community tank sounds like an excellent system. All of your corals and small reef fish are compatible with seahorses and you have created a little patch of paradise for your ponies. Very nice! (I especially like the addition of the sump.)
I’m sorry to hear that you lost your oldest seahorse. Yes, it’s possible that your middle seahorse may be experiencing something akin to depression following the loss of a tankmate. Many hobbyists report that seahorses exhibit emotions akin to sadness under such circumstances.
For example, a widowed seahorse certainly can be traumatized by the loss of its mate. Over the years, I have heard many anecdotal reports that indicate that the health of a pair-bonded seahorse often suffers when it loses its mate. Widowers are thus said to languish, experience loss of appetite, and lapse into a general state of decline. Many hobbyists equate this to a state of depression or melancholy. While it’s safe to say that widowed seahorses don’t die from a broken heart, there may well be a kernel of truth at the heart of such accounts. It’s very likely that a pair-bonded seahorse suddenly separated from its mate will experience altered hormonal secretion as a result. This can cause low levels of certain hormones that are known to have a profound influence on both mental state and physical well being in humans and animals alike, affecting everything from the immune response to sperm production and sex drive.
So it’s conceivable that your middle seahorse may be reacting to the loss of the oldest pony, and that it may be off its feed a bit as a result. If the percula clownfish have developed a taste for frozen Mysis — which they often do — and have taken to monopolizing the feeding station a bit at mealtime, that may also be a factor in the middle seahorses loss of appetite.
In that case, Ed and Jessica, you might try target feeding your seahorses as described below to see if that perks up your ‘tweeners appetite:
Feeding Seahorses In the Community Tank
When keeping seahorses in an appropriately elaborate environment, it is imperative that you feed them properly! Domesticated seahorses thrive on enriched frozen Mysis as their staple, everyday diet. But the worst thing you can do when feeding the seahorses in a intricate reef or live rock environment is to scatter a handful of frozen Mysis throughout the tank to be dispersed by the currents and hope that the hungry horses can track it all down. Inevitably some of the frozen food will be swept away and lodge in isolated nooks and crannies where the seahorses cannot get it (Giwojna, 2005). There it will begin to decompose and degrade the water quality, which is why ammonia spikes are common after a heavy feeding. Or it may be wafted out into the open again later on and eaten after it has begun to spoil. Either outcome can have dire consequences (Giwojna, 2005).
The best way to avoid such problems is to target feed your seahorses or set up a feeding station for them. <And in your case, and Jessica, I would suggest target feeding since your clownfish are now "on" to the feeding station and taking advantage of the easy pickings there.>
Personally, I prefer to target feed my seahorses instead. The individual personalities of seahorses naturally extend to their feeding habits. Some are aggressive feeders that will boldly snatch food from your fingers, while some are shy and secretive, feeding only when they think they’re not being observed. Some like to slurp up Mysis while it’s swirling through the water column, and some will only take Mysis off the bottom of the tank. Some are voracious pigs that greedily scarf up everything in sight, and some are slow, deliberate feeders that painstakingly examine every morsel of Mysis before they accept or reject it. Some eat like horses and some eat like birds. So how does the seahorse keeper make sure all his charges are getting enough to eat at mealtime? How does the hobbyist keep the aggressive eaters from gobbling up all the mouth-watering Mysis before the slower feeders get their fair share? And how can you keep active fishes and inverts with seahorses without the faster fishes gobbling up all the goodies before the slowpoke seahorses can grab a mouthful (Giwojna, unpublished)?
Target feeding is the answer. Target feeding just means offering a single piece of Mysis to one particular seahorse, and then watching to see whether or not the ‘horse you targeted actually eats the shrimp. Feeding each of your seahorses in turn that way makes it easy to keep track of exactly how much each of your specimens is eating (Giwojna, unpublished).
There are many different ways to target feed seahorses. Most methods involve using a long utensil of some sort to wave the Mysis temptingly in front of the chosen seahorse; once you’re sure this has attracted his interest, the Mysis is released so it drifts down enticingly right before the seahorse’s snout. Most of the time, the seahorse will snatch it up as it drifts by or snap it up as soon as it hits the bottom (Giwojna, unpublished).
A great number of utensils work well for target feeding. I’ve seen hobbyists use everything from chopsticks to extra long tweezers and hemostats or forceps to homemade pipettes fashioned from a length of rigid plastic tubing. As for myself, I prefer handfeeding when I target feed a particular seahorse (Giwojna, unpublished).
But no doubt the all-time favorite implement for target feeding seahorses is the old-fashioned turkey baster. The old-fashioned ones with the glass barrels work best because the seahorses can see the Mysis inside the baster all the way as it moves down the barrel and out the tip. By exerting just the right amount of pressure on the bulb, great precision is possible when target feeding with a turkey baster. By squeezing and releasing the bulb ever so slightly, a skillful target feeder can keep a piece of Mysis dancing at the very tip of the baster indefinitely, and hold the tempting morsel right in front of the seahorse’s mouth as long as necessary. Or if the seahorse rejects the Mysis the first time it drifts by, a baster makes it easy to deftly suck up the shrimp from the bottom so it can be offered to the target again. In the same way, the baster makes it a simple matter to clean any remaining leftovers after a feeding session (Giwojna, unpublished). (You’ll quickly discover the feeding tube is also indispensable for tapping away pesky fish and invertebrates that threaten to steal the tempting tidbit before an indecisive seahorse can snatch it up.)
In short, target feeding allows the hobbyist to assure that each of his seahorses gets enough to eat without overfeeding or underfeeding the tank. And it makes it possible to keep seahorses in a community tank with more active fishes that would ordinarily out-compete them for food, since the aquarist can personally deliver each mouthful to the seahorses while keeping more aggressive specimens at bay (Giwojna, unpublished).
The key to keeping active specimens like firefish and occelaris clownfish or cleaner shrimp successfully with seahorses is to feed the other fish and inverts with standard, off-the-shelf aquarium foods first, and once they’ve had their fill, then target feed the seahorses (Giwojna, unpublished).
I suspect that your middle seahorse will respond positively to target feeding and begin eating more aggressively again, Ed and Jessica, and that he will most likely be just fine once he’s had more time to adjust to the loss of his long-time tankmate. But just to be on the safe side, I would suggest postponing the delivery of your mated pair of Sunbursts for a week or two to make sure that everything gets back on track and that you are not dealing with a more serious problem than depression. Since you have just lost your oldest seahorse to complications from gas bubble syndrome and your middle seahorse is now off his feed and acting a little strangely, that would be a sensible precaution. If you agree, I would contact Ocean Rider over the telephone immediately with your order number and request that they change your delivery date and ship your seahorses perhaps two weeks from this Friday instead. Then follow up with an e-mail to the same effect.
No, sir — when your new seahorses arrive you DO NOT acclimate them as you would other fish or invertebrates you bring home from your LFS. That information that explains how to acclimate and care for your Sunburst properly is available online at the following link, and it would be a good idea for you to check it out before your seahorses arrive so you are familiar with the acclimation procedures and the needs of your seahorses when they are delivered:
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Sunbursts
The acclimation instructions explaining just how to introduce your new seahorses to your aquarium are also available online, and it would be a good idea for you to review them at the following link as well
Click here: Seahorse.com – Seahorse, Sea Life, Marine Life, Aquafarm Sales, Feeds and Accessories – Acclimation Procedures http://www.seahorse.com/Aquarium_Life/Aquarium_Life/Acclimation_Procedures/
In addition, I would be happy to discuss the acclimation procedures with you in greater detail and explain step-by-step exactly how to proceed. First of all, however, let me assure you that 9 times out of 10 the seahorses arrive in great shape without being unduly stressed by their long-distance shipping. And even in those rare instances when the seahorses do experience shipping stress and elevated ammonia levels while in transit, they almost always recover fully, none the worse for wear, within a short period provided they are acclimated properly. I know it’s hard not to get a little excited and nervous about your first seahorses, but you can be very confident that everything will go smoothly if you just follow the instructions.
The following information should make everything crystal clear, as well as explaining why it is important to acclimate your new arrivals according to the instructions:
Acclimating New Arrivals
It is very important to avoid drip acclimating the seahorses after their long trip from Hawaii, and to follow the acclimation instructions closely so that the new arrivals can be transferred into the new aquarium within 20-30 minutes of opening the shipping bags.
As you know, acclimating seahorses that have been in the shipping bag for a day or two following long-distance shipping calls for a somewhat different acclimation protocol. The painstaking drip-acclimation process works very well for specimens that were obtained locally and bagged up with pure oxygen at their LFS for the short trip home because there isn’t time for significant levels of ammonia or carbon dioxide (CO2) to build up in the bags before acclimation is begun. But drip-acclimating specimens that have been en route for 24 hours or more can be disastrous and may well result in the death of the specimens while they are still in the shipping bag. Allow me explain.
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 of 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. 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 shipping bag in your tank, or better yet in a clean container filled 2/3 of the way with water from the aquarium, for about 10 minutes to equalize temperatures. (Those shipping bags can be dirty and germ laden!)
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.
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, Ed and Jessica. 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. 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.
If you can update me on your current aquarium parameters, I will look them over and see if there’s anything that needs to be adjusted or changed in order to provide optimum conditions for your Sunbursts. It would be helpful to know your current water chemistry readings for the following:
Ammonia (NH3/NH4+) =
Nitrite (N02) =
Nitrate (N03) =
specific gravity =
water temperature =
Best wishes with all your fishes (and invertebrates), Ed and Jessica! Here’s hoping your middle seahorse is soon back to normal and eating like a horse again!
Pete Giwojna, Ocean Rider Tech SupportSeptember 27, 2007 at 9:12 am #3823eamberGuest
The information you provided is invaluable. I actually was target feeding him this evening and he responded to four pieces of mysis and after I left his view, he proceeded to eat from the bowl with our other horse. We noticed that he is shy, but a very good hunter. He was the only one of our horses that actually went after the live shrimp and was really good at catching them. The recent horse that perished was the only one that had a problem with GBS….he had this problem two other times over a years span. I noticed that on one occasion we had run low in the sump and the protein skimmer was emmiting more micro bubbles than normal. This might have been the problem this past time. He tended to flush his pouch more often than the others.
I did just receive notification that the horses are on their way and my wife and I are confident that there is nothing wrong with the tank. We are testing the water tomorrow and will update you on our water parameters. They should arrive on Friday morning. We will keep you posted….thank you so much for your help. We are going to use this forum often and hopefully share some pics.
Ed & JessicaSeptember 27, 2007 at 9:03 pm #3824Pete GiwojnaGuest
Dear Ed & Jessica:
Okay, it sounds like you’ve got a pretty good handle on things and I’m sure all will go well with your new pair of Sunbursts. It’s encouraging that your middle seahorse is eating well again — a healthy appetite is always a good sign. You might want to perform a partial water change and do a little judicious aquarium cleaning before the new seahorses arrive, but other than that, it sounds like you’re all set. I’ll keep an eye out for the update with your current aquarium parameters and doublecheck them just to be on the safe side.
In the meantime, be sure to check out the Care Sheet for the red feeder shrimp (volcano shrimp) that will be sent along with your Sunbursts in order to help ease their transition into their new surroundings, which is available online at the following URL:
Also, since you’re older seahorse had some recurring problems with GBS over the years, I’m going to go over my suggestions for minimizing problems with gas bubble disease, in case you haven’t already seen them:
Here are some precautionary measures to observe, when possible, which can help to eliminate problems with GBS:
Preventing Gas Bubble Syndrome
Since GBS is caused by physical factors in the seahorse setup, when the affliction crops up, it’s a red flag that indicates that there’s something amiss with the conditions in your tank. With that in mind, I would like to quickly review some of the preventative measures aquarists can take to minimize problems with Gas Bubble Syndrome:
(1) Aquarium options (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Taller is better. When shopping for a seahorse setup, opt for the tall or high model of the largest aquarium you can reasonable afford and maintain. If the tank is too short, male seahorses may not be able to get enough pumping action in as they ascend and descend during courtship displays and mating (the copulatory rise) to flush out their pouches and cleanse them properly (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003). This can contribute to bloated pouch, a type of pouch emphysema.
As a rule, your seahorses require a minimum of three times their height (total length) in vertical swimming space in order to mate comfortably and help avoid this sort of pouch gas problem.
Other forms of GBS are also believed to be depth related, but the aquarium must be greater than 30 inches deep to provide any significant protection against them, which is not feasible for most hobbyists (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). A depth of at least 3 feet is known to protect the Hawaiian seahorse (Hippocampus fisheri) against GBD (Karen Brittain, pers. com.).
If you’ve had a problem with GBS in the past, look for a tank at least 20-30 inches tall, reduce your water temp to 70-degrees F, and avoid overly tall hitching posts that reach near the water’s surface (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003). You want to encourage the seahorses to hang out near the bottom in order to take advantage of every inch of depth the aquarium can provide.
(2) Filtration options (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Gas supersaturation of the water can occur whenever the dissolved gas pressure in the water is greater than the atmospheric pressure. When that happens, the dissolved gases in the seahorse’s tissues are no longer in equilibrium with the surrounding aquarium water, causing gas to move into the area with lower partial gas pressure — the tissues and blood of the seahorse – and come out of solution, forming gas emboli! Providing proper filtration, circulation, and aeration can prevent this.
Trickle filter (acts as a de-embolizing tower or degassing column).
External filter that returns water as a "water fall."
Sump with strong aeration.
Overflow drains, as opposed to siphon/suction tubes.
Surface agitation to facilitate efficient gas exchange.
Increased circulation and water movement.
Extra airstone(s) just below the surface of the water.
Having a trickle filter, water "falling" into the tank as it’s returned, or strong aeration in the tank or the sump will help off-gas any supersaturated dissolved gases (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). This will also help off-gas a build up of CO2 and the associated pH drop that some tanks experience when the lights go off (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). The off gassing or degassing takes place only at the very air/water interface, so you want to spread the water into very thin sheets and let it be in contact with the atmosphere for an extended period (Robin Weber, pers. com.). That is precisely what a degas column does by trickling water over solid media open to the atmosphere, and if properly maintained and operated, a wet/dry trickle filter can perform the same function (Jorge A. Gomezjurado, pers. com.). For best results, the outflow from a trickle filter should go into a baffled chamber that will allow bubbles to dissipate before they enter pumps or plumbing restrictions (J. Charles Delbeek, pers. com.).
Airstones, air lifts, bubble wands, etc., if submerged deeper than 18 inches.
Subsurface entry of the inflowing or recirculating water.
On small, closed-system aquariums, supersaturation is often due to the entraining of air on the intake side of a leaky pump, which then chops the air into fine microbubbles and injects it into the water (Cripe, Kowalski and Phipps, 1999). Water and air are thus mixed under high pressure and forced into the water column, which can result in gas supersaturation. An air leak in inflowing or recirculating water that enters the tank below the surface can cause the same thing (Cripe, Kowalski and Phipps, 1999). Allowing the water to splash before it enters the tank is a simple way to prevent this from happening. The splashing helps the water to expel excess gas and reach equilibrium with the ambient air pressure (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Likewise, airstones, air lifts, bubble wands and the like can cause problems 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 18 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 excessive 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 keep your airstones shallow!
(3) Eliminate stress (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Avoid aggressive tankmates.
Install a titanium grounding probe to eliminate stray voltage.
Avoid exposing the seahorse tank to excessive noise or heavy foot traffic.
Use a cork or Styrofoam aquarium pad beneath the tank to deaden vibrations.
Stress has been linked to GBS in seahorses via the following mechanism: chronic or prolonged stress causes changes in the seahorse’s blood chemistry (acidosis), which in turn affects the oxygen-carrying capacity of certain types of hemoglobin, and the reduced oxygen-carrying capacity of hemoglobin can then causes embolisms to form in the blood.
The excess of protons (H+) under acid conditions also causes carbonic anhydrase to shift to producing CO2 from carbonic acid in the bloodstream, and the CO2 that results can likewise lead to gas embolisms under certain circumstances (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Mic Payne is one of the professionals who feel GBS is most likely a stress-related affliction. He believes it is often a result of chronic stress due to antagonistic behavior by overaggressive males, particularly if they are overcrowded (Payne, pers. com.). Exposing our seahorses to any type of stress may leave them predisposed to GBS (and vulnerable to many other diseases as well). Reduce the stress levels on our seahorses and we reduce the incidence of GBS accordingly (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
(4) Maintain optimum water quality (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
Don’t overfeed and remove leftovers promptly.
Employ an efficient cleanup crew.
Practice sound aquarium management and maintenance.
Monitor the aquarium parameters regularly.
Maintain total alkalinity and keep your pH between 8.1-8.4
Maintain a strict schedule for routine water changes.
When he was experimenting with possible treatments for GBS, Paul Groves (Head Aquarist at Underwater World in Perth, Australia, at the time) was able to produce all the different forms of GBS in a control group of Hippocampus breviceps simply by exposing them to a dirty, bacteria-laden substrate. His seahorse setup was far better than any hobbyist could hope for — an open system with 100% flow through from the ocean and a live sand base, yet all the seahorses in the tank eventually developed GBS (Groves, pers. com.). Males with chronic pouch gas were the first to appear, followed by specimens with internal GBS, and finally subcutaneous gas bubbles appeared on the tails and snouts of the others Groves, pers. com.). The weakness of Paul’s setup was poor circulation, and for experimental purposes, he deliberately allowed fecal matter and uneaten nauplii to build up on the bed of live sand. (Groves found that antibiotics were totally ineffective in treating GBS, but he eventually cured 10 of the 12 affected seahorses using decompression at a depth of 4 meters.)
It is not clear whether stress from the dirty conditions or exposure to such a high density of bacteria triggered the problem in this case, but the lesson is loud and clear all the same — it pays to keep those aquariums clean (Giwojna, Jan. 2004)! If we keep our seahorses setups clean, we will keep our problems with GBS to a minimum (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Maintaining the proper pH is especially important for seahorses, since low pH in the aquarium can result in general metabolic acidosis, leading to gas embolisms via the same mechanisms as stress-induced GBS (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
(5) Water changing precautions (Giwojna, Jan. 2004):
It’s an excellent idea to use Reverse Osmosis (RO) or Deionized (DI) or RO/DI water for your changes because it’s much more pure than tap water. However, water purified by such methods is very soft and must be buffered before it’s used so it won’t drop the pH in your aquarium when it’s added (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
When mixing saltwater for your marine aquarium, it’s important to fill your container with all the water you will need BEFORE adding the salt mix. In other words, if you are mixing up 5 gallons of new saltwater, fill the mixing container with 5 gallons of water and then add the salt. If you do it the other way around — dump the salt mix in the container and then start filling it with water, the water can become saturated with salt to the point that the calcium precipitates out. This calcium precipitation will turn the water milky and can also lower the pH to dangerous levels (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Water changes can also be a problem because of the supersaturation of gases in tap water. Tap water distribution systems are maintained under pressure at all times, both to insure adequate flow and to prevent polluted water from outside the pipes from entering in at leaks. Any additional gas introduced into these pipes (from a leaky manifold, for example) will be dissolved at these higher partial pressures, and will often be supersaturated when it emerges from the tap (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Also, gases are more soluble in cold water than warm, so when gas-saturated cold water emerges from the tap and warms up in an aquarium, or is warmed up and preadjusted to aquarium temps prior to making a water change, the water can become supersaturated (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). This must be avoided at all costs because gas supersaturation is one of the factors that can contribute to Gas Bubble Disease in seahorses and other fish.
To prevent this, tap water should be allowed to sit for several days beforehand or gentle aeration can be used to remove gas supersaturation before a water change (just make sure your airstones are not be submerged greater than 18 inches while you’re aerating your freshly mixed water; (Giwojna, Jan. 2004)). Some brands of artificial sea salt also produce low levels of ammonia immediately after mixing with water, and aging or aerating the newly mixed water as described above will dissipate this residual ammonia.
Most of the above is mentioned for future reference — I realize there aren’t many modifications you can make after the fact, once your system is already up and running (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). But there are a few things you can try with your existing system that should help.
First of all, whenever you find yourself dealing with an environmental disease such as GBS, a water change is an excellent place to start. At the first sign of GBS, I suggest you combine a 25%-50% water change with a thorough aquarium clean up (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Secondly, consider adding an ordinary airstone to your tank, anchored just beneath the surface of the water. That will add surface agitation, extra aeration, and better gas exchange at the air/water interface (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Unless you’re quite certain your system already has plenty of water movement, it is also advisable to add a small powerhead for extra circulation (Giwojna, Jan. 2004). Seahorses can handle more water movement than most folks realize, and you can always turn it off during feedings. Just screen off the intake for the powerhead as a precaution so it can’t accidentally suck up a curious seahorse (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Finally, use shorter hitching posts and holdfasts that will confine your seahorses to the bottom half of the aquarium and reduce the water temperature. Shorter hitching posts will get the maximum benefit from whatever depth your tank can provide, and lowering the water temperature allows the water to hold more dissolved gases, which can help avoid any tendency toward supersaturation (Cozzi-Schmarr, 2003).
Those simple measures may make a big difference. Just maintain good water quality, add a shallow airstone and perhaps an extra power head to provide better water movement and gas exchange, and keep things cool and you can reduce your risk of GBS considerably (Giwojna, Jan. 2004).
Best of luck with your new Sunbursts, Ed and Jessica!
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