Author Archives: Tami Weiss

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How To Pick Your First Seahorse: 12 Common Seahorse Species Explored

Any number of species of seahorses can be suitable for the right aquarium. Left to right: Hippocampus erectus, Hippocampus barbouri, Hippocampus reidi I’m often asked which species of seahorse aquarists should get for their first aquarium. This question may sound simple enough, but different species behave differently and have varying levels of care required. I’ve put together a list of the most commonly available species, their difficulty level and some additional notes.

Opinion: Selling Baby Seahorses Is Wrong

Seahorse baby being sold far to young in a listing on eBay. It happens every so often. Someone discovers just how easily seahorses breed, but can’t raise the babies, or discover the expense and time it takes to raise seahorses and so they decide they can sell the seahorse fry and make some money doing it. Unfortunately, it’s a mistake and it ends badly for everyone but the seller. To understand why selling seahorse fry is wrong, we need to look at what causes this situation. Seahorses breed extremely easily

Pipefish For The Reef Aquarium: Part Two, Husbandry

Scribbled Dragonface Pipefish Corythoichthys instinalis Photo courtesy of Aaron Down Now that we’ve discussed which pipefish are appropriate for the reef aquarium in Pipefish For The Reef Aquarium: Part One, The Pipefish, we can look at acquiring and caring for your pipefish. Picking Your Pipefish When purchasing pipefish, there are a few things you can look out for to ensure you get healthy pipefish. Pipefish are susceptible to bacterial infections, so look for areas of cloudy skin, fins or eyes. Rapid breathing is frequently a sign of distress; although it can be situational i.e. fear from recent acclimation, or it can be a sign of a bigger problem such as parasites or bacterial infection. Flagtail Pipefish should be swimming above the substrate, not resting on the bottom.

Is Your Seahorse Floating? Seahorse Pouch Evac How To Video

Written By: Tami Weiss | Date Posted: 08/27/2014 | | Is your seahorse floating? Gas in the pouch of seahorses is one of the most common ailments of seahorses in captivity. Knowing how difficult pouch evacuations can be for seahorse aquarists, we put together a video that shows how to do a pouch evacuation on seahorses. Many thanks to Momo Yang and his master editing skills in getting this put together. This is the first in a series of how to videos to come here at

Hot Summer, Cool Seahorses: Cooling The Seahorse Aquarium

Summers can be deadly to seahorses. Are you prepared to cool them down? Summer’s here, and seahorse aquarists are starting to see tank temperatures rise. Seahorses, are particularly vulnerable to warmer temperatures , so for many seahorse aquarists, even moderate heat can lead to a mad dash to lower the water temperature. The consequences of warm water can be deadly for seahorses. Bacteria spread at a faster rate in warmer water, so the warmer it gets, the more likely you are to see illness pop up in your aquarium. Another often overlooked problem is that warmer water holds less oxygen, stressing out the inhabitants of your aquarium. This tends to be worse for seahorses than other fish due to their lobed gill structure. Fans, your first line of defense Often, open tops with fans blowing across the water is enough to drop temp a few degrees. This works by evaporative cooling. Removing tops, and placing a fan so it blows across the water will make the water evaporate much faster, cooling the tank. You can easily drop a tank below the ambient temperature if you have enough evaporative cooling. Theoretically, you can drop as much as 18F degrees below ambient temperatures. Realistically, you are going to see a drop of between 3 and 5 degrees in a home aquarium. (More about evaporative cooling here.) Ways to improve evaporative cooling is to have the fan blowing across the longest part of the tank. Aiding evaporation can be done by increasing surface movement. Position power heads and add air pumps to create more movement. If you have a sump, you can help things out by placing a fan across the sump as well. Keeping the stand doors open will help heat from equipment dissipate. Be sure if you have fish that could be jumpers that the tank has some form of mesh over the top to keep them from making their final leap. You can use egg crate to fashion a top, or pond mesh and aluminum window frames. Do remember that with evaporative cooling, you will lose significantly more water through evaporation than normal. Keeping an eye on the tank, or even adding an auto top-off unit to replenish the tank will be necessary. Evaporative cooling works best in dry climates. Someone in Arizona will have better results than someone in Florida. However, if air conditioning is being used, you have a dehumidifier build in, and can get to lower humidity levels to keep the tank cool. Air Conditioning Often when people think cooling a tank, they think they need to resort to a chiller. That’s not always the case! Often times it’s cheaper to get a room air conditioner and run it rather than buying a whole chiller. And for bonus points, you get a cool room. Of course, it depends where you live, where your tank is set up, and what your electricity prices are like. But it’s always a good idea to at least consider air conditioning. Small units can be had for under $100. If you have odd shaped windows you can get a portable air conditioner. Portable air conditioners carry warm air out via a hose that you connect to a window. They do take up floor space, and some people think they’re loud; but they provide an option for those of us with weird windows. Check Your Equipment There are many ways you can change your equipment setup to help remove heat. Reducing equipment, externalizing equipment, and even cleaning equipment can all help. Reduce Equipment If you’re running several powerheads to keep water moving, a pump from the sump to the tank, and a pump for the skimmer, you could easily be dumping a large amount of heat into your aquarium. Reducing those items while keeping the water moving is a great way to lower the temperature of the tank. Multiple powerheads can be replaced with a single, well designed closed loop. Upgrade Equipment Older equipment is likely to draw more power mom less umph. The additional power translates to additional heat in the tank. Newer, low watt pumps can lower the overall energy consumption along with the heat output. Don’t forget the lowly air pump! Most are low watt and can move around a substantial amount of water, even if it’s not in the way we’re used to in an aquarium. But they can work to keep the surface agitated with very little cost or heat addition. Externalize Equipment Every piece of equipment in the tank adds to the heat overload. If you can externalize the pumps that are in your aquarium, you’re reducing a lot of the equipment heat. External sump pumps can be plumbed alongside your sump. Internal powerheads can be upgraded to those with external motors, such as a VorTech (just be sure to use the foam covering to keep seahorse tails out). Clean Equipment Because our tanks are alkaline with a lot of minerals, calcium deposits occur inside our pump housing. This creates friction, and friction is heat. It may sound like a simple step, but cleaning your pumps every couple of months can help keep the temperature in check. A good vinegar soak followed by a thorough rinsing will remove calcium deposits with ease. Chiller A chiller is often the nuclear option in high temperature situations. They are expensive and take up space. And you need to be sure you’ve chosen one that can cool your aquarium to the right temperature. There are many low cost models out there that don’t cool as much as they purport to cool, so checking reviews is essential. Pet Education has a great article on choosing the right chiller Chiller Sizing Calculator DIY Chiller One way to go about a chiller on a budget is to make your own. While they are rarely pretty, they are an option for those on a budget or just like the challenge of building something themselves.Most rely on a dorm fridge which can often be had for next to nothing, and a big coil of aquarium tubing where water passing through, is cooled, and passed back into the aquarium. DIY Chiller ideas: DIY Evaporative ChillerRefrigerator ChillerDIY chillerAnother DIY ChillerDIY ChillingDIY Do It Yourself Aquarium Chiller Basement If you’re in a warm climate and air conditioning or a chiller isn’t an option, but have access to a basement, sometimes the reality is that it might be the best place for your aquarium. Placing in the basement is not something you can do quickly during a heatwave, but if you’re deciding where to set up your aquarium, be sure to think of what the conditions are going to be like throughout the year. Sometimes placement in the basement is just a fact of life. If you have a concrete floor, you can even take advantage of natural cooling by placing the aquarium sump directly on the concrete rather than raising it up to sit on wood inside the stand. It may take some clever modifications, or a custom built stand, but can be well worth the cooling effect of the concrete. Ice in Emergencies Keeping a couple bottles of ice in the freezer can be a lifesaver. They don’t take up much space, but in an emergency such as a/c or power outage in a heat wave, they could make all the difference in the world. The downside is that you don’t have much control over the cooling. But they could end up saving your seahorses. If you don’t have bottles of ice, and need something FAST, regular ice can be used, but place it in a ziplock bag so it doesn’t melt into the tank. You don’t want it diluting the tank, only cooling. Ice Chiller In a prolonged emergency or unexpected heat wave, you can make a temporary chiller out of a cooler, ice, a coil of aquarium tubing (at least 75’) and a pump to push the water through the tubing coiled up in the cooler. A more detailed explanation. Following the above advice should let you cool your seahorse aquarium to safe temperatures with ease, leaving you, and your seahorses to sleep better at night. DIY Ice Air Conditioner You can even make an air conditioner using a number of inexpensive parts if you’re really in a bind. The idea is to have a fan pushing cold air out of a container. The essentials are a small fan, ice, and a container for the ice. Youtube has a couple examples, one using a 5 gallon bucket, and another using a cooler. I suspect neither would last long term, but they might be a good short term solution for cooling a room with aquariums rather than trying to cool each room. And they’re dirt cheap to build. Do you have any tips and tricks for aquarium cooling? Leave them in the comments below! This entry was posted on Saturday, July 26th, 2014 at 11:53 am and is filed under Aquarium Care. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

How Ocean Rider Is Fighting to Save Seahorses

Seahorse release programs are questionable. Photo by Otávio Nogueira Ocean Rider, as part of their Seahorse Hawaii Foundation efforts, announced late last year that it was going to be reintroducing seahorses back into the wild in a few locations. On the surface, this sounds like a great step towards conservation. Reintroduction programs are very popular with the public, and who wouldn’t want seahorses reestablished in the wild? Unfortunately, these types of reintroduction programs have limited success, and can actually do more harm than good. It is true that seahorses are at risk from overfishing. But they haven’t disappeared from the wild, making programs to reestablish them moot. Reintroduction programs are generally only beneficial in places that a species has been wiped out completely, and only when the conditions that caused their decline are reversed. Seahorses are still found all over the world, no single species lost from it’s native range. Nor are any critically endangered, for that matter. The sad truth is that the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation’s reintroduction program is ill-advised and unnecessary, and potentially harmful. Captive Breeding and Return To the Wild Successful breeding and release programs have been highly publicized and are well loved because of those successes. They have worked in some specific instances where species were completely decimated in their natural habitat. What many don’t realize is that these programs were extremely expensive and many more failed. Notable exceptions have been remembered; failures left off the front pages. We naturally gravitate towards the positive success stories, but it gives us an unbalanced perception of how these programs actually work. Because of the number of failures, reintroduction programs have lost favor with conservationists in all but the most dire circumstances. They have to be both time and financially costly if there is any hope for the program to be successful. They require careful planning along side a reversal of the conditions that cause the loss of the reintroduced species in the first place. Reintroduction programs alone don’t address the core issue of why a species disappears from the wild, such as over-hunting, overfishing, or habitat destruction. Without addressing those problems, reintroduction programs fail. Disease There are many problems with reintroduction programs beyond planning issues above. Disease is a big problem in captive breeding programs. Captive bred animals frequently harbor pathogens their wild counterparts would never come in contact with. Of particular concern to seahorses is Microbacterium, a disease causing bacteria common in captive seahorse populations, but virtually unheard of in wild seahorses. As a poignant example of how devastating this can be, almost these exact circumstances happened in a captive breeding program for frogs. In 2008, a paper was published about a deadly disease that was introduced into endangered wild frog populations from a mishandled reintroduction program. The disease, a fungus, was responsible for killing off entire populations of frogs and in some cases driving them to extinction. While it’s not clear if the same could happen to seahorses, it is clear that uncontrolled and poorly controlled captive breeding programs can lead to substantial and sometimes irreversible losses. Bad Genes Genetics is also a big problem, and there are two core issues. The first is one of inbreeding and population drift that causes a reduction in genetic material available. Reintroduction programs have to carefully plan from the very beginning to keep any offspring from losing genetic diversity. Tacking on a reintroduction program after a decade plus of captive breeding is bound to have repercussions that can’t be undone. Certain genes have already been irrevocably lost. The second issue is flooding the gene pool with a large number of related animals. Even if the released seahorses come from genetically untainted stock, releasing a large number of seahorses form a limited gene pool can have the unintended side effects of artificially limiting the genetic variation of seahorses in the wild. In nature, only a small number of seahorses born survive to go on to breed themselves. So you have many seahorses producing offspring and only a few of each brood will survive, ensuring a diverse set collection of genes in the population. In captivity, advances in aquaculturing means large numbers from a single pair can survive. If many seahorses are released from a single or limited group of pairs, their genes can quickly become the dominant genes in a population, and many genes will be lost. This leaves less diversity overall in the population. Genetic diversity is the key to adaptation and survival when there are major changes to a species environment, be it geography, climate, pathogens or the slow match of time in creating a new species. Owner and spokesperson Carol Cozzi Schmarr has indicated on numerous occasions that even their broodstock seahorses are no longer harvested from the wild. This would make any animals coming from their farm to be from a limited gene pool, poor choices for returning to the ocean. A reintroduction program that planned on breeding their own animals would have to manage genetic variety from the very beginning. In essence, Ocean Rider would have to start their breeding program over with new seahorses collected from the wild. And that still leaves the problem of: Captive Bred Failure Reintroduction programs using captive bred animals have had the highest failure rates. Most successful programs come from relocating wild animals from an area with a more stable population, rather than breeding in captivity and releasing. It might sound obvious, but wild animals have already learned to cope with the dangers of being in the wild. Those programs that rely on captive breeding face a long, hard road. Frequently these programs outright fail, and those that are successful require significant training for survival in the wild. Whooping Cranes are a great example of a successful captive breeding effort. But it had numerous false starts, and required a high level of involvement to train whooping cranes to be whooping cranes, including teaching the birds to behave like wild birds and teaching them migration routes using ultralight gliders. The whooping crane reintroduction projects have been ongoing for nearly 40 years and have managed to establish around 400 birds back into the wild, not all self-sustaining populations yet. One additional genetic side affect is the unintentional selection of animals that are fit for captivity, not the wild. Just by the nature of breeding in captivity, animals that thrive in an artificial environment do best, and those traits are often ones that conflict with traits that would be beneficial to life in the wild. Once returned to the wild, they are unable to adapt to the changing conditions. Obfuscated Effort For $2500, the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation lets you adopt a pair of seahorses to be released into the wild. They do not go into detail on how this program is to be managed, or why they think the program is necessary beyond vague assertions that they need to be “reestablished”. There is no evidence that they are missing or require reintroduction into the proposed areas. The “Adopt A Seahorse” program gives no specifics on what exactly that their programme intends to do or why. Their website gives no indication of if any populations studies have been determined to decide where seahorses should be released. There is no mention of any studies or surveys done to determine the viability of their program. Three locations are indicated, Hawaii, Fiji and Tonga. But they do not indicate why those locations were chosen, or what concrete goals they are hoping to achieve with the releases. Not one of the three locations are devoid of seahorses, making it difficult to know what positive benefit a reintroduction program would have. Lack Of Studies I touch on it above, but one giant piece of the puzzle is the lack of any indication that Ocean Rider has studied seahorses in the wild. Not only does there appear to be no population studies done to determine that there needs to be seahorses released into the wild, but indeed they don’t seem to have studied any aspects of seahorse life in the ocean. There are no studies or indication of studies regarding whether they even need to release seahorses, what the numbers are and what problems the seahorses face. While there are numerous studies regarding threats to seahorses, they need local studies to determine the viability of their programs, and there do not appear to be any. And without studies tracking the behavior of the species they intend to release, there really isn’t going to be a way to track those seahorses. They make promises to do so, but it’s an impossible task without first knowing how those seahorses might be expected to behave, such as their range, movement over time, predation risks and seasonal movements. The Wrong Seahorses? Most surprising of all is that their page on the release program predominantly features the species Hippocampus erectus, which is not native to any of the three release locations. I would like to believe that was an oversight on their website team’s part and not that they are releasing non-native seahorses to different parts of the world. This shows 3 pictures of Hippocampus erectus, not native to any of the locations mentioned above it. Only H. fisheri in the third picture is geographically correct for Hawaii. Screen Captures from At least that’s what I would hope. However this recent interview with The Animalist suggests otherwise. Owner Carol Cozzi-Schmarr indicates they have “so many of them, we’re releasing them back into the wild.” Ocean Rider’s primary seahorses are H. erectus, not a species native to the release places in question. Ocean Rider, like many other breeders, has bred H. erectus en masse and it is their primary “bread and butter” seahorse. Not only that, but they claimed they’ve domesticated them and haven’t recently taken any from the wild, further suggesting an extremely limited genetic pool. As mentioned earlier, low genetic diversity in captive bred animals is problematic in release programs. I’d love to give them the benefit of the doubt about what species they’re releasing but even if it’s the right species. . . Or The Right Seahorses? Of the seahorses Ocean Rider publicly list they have, only one species is native to Hawaii (more on that in a moment.). This species, Hippocampus fisheri, comes from deep water, and rises with plankton at night to hunt. This is the most logical choice of seahorse in their breeding program they’d be releasing in Hawaii. And it’s logistically tricky. The Seahorse Hawaii Foundation claims they’ll be monitoring the seahorses released in Hawaii. They say: “Their behaviour [sic] and movement will be monitored and tracked by a group of Seahorse Ambassadors to include adults and children from the local reef where the seahorses will be living.” H. fisheri’s behavior makes it close to impossible to monitor. There is very little know about this species in the wild, but we know they make large migrations at night. And we don’t know if they’re site faithful, turning the idea they can be monitored on its head. There are no studies showing H. fisheri populations are in danger. Or any Hawaiian seahorse, for that matter. There haven’t been any studies done to show there is a need for reintroduction, and it’s highly unlikely they would be as Hawaii isn’t a primary exporter of seahorses. Endangered species? Ocean Rider misleadingly claims all seahorses are endangered. This just isn’t true. Their trade is regulated by a voluntary treaty. And most seahorse species are protected based on the assumption they are overfished, but most have been officially classified as “Data Deficient” or vulnerable. And while that doesn’t sound particularly great, it is a significant distinction from the classification “endangered” and needs to be treated differently. It’s also important to remember that most ocean fisheries have seen dramatic declines and are overfished, not just seahorses.  The answer isn’t releasing a few dozen or hundreds back into the wild, it’s protecting what is there, and regulating the trade to manage fish stocks responsibly. Seahorses do face a number of threats; overfishing, by-catch, climate change, habitat loss to name a few. But when we’re seeing 25 million harvested a year, releasing a handful of seahorses in places there are already seahorses doesn’t begin to address the problem. Real conservation efforts are concerned about overfishing, and how best to sustainably fish, about limiting by-catch reducing habitat loss or restoring destroyed habitat. Searching For Answers When I first heard about the Ocean Rider/Seahorse Hawaii Foundation’s release program, I delayed writing this article because there is a conspicuous lack of factual information available, as well as a lack of details about the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation. I struggled with the need to speculate in the absence of concrete information. But the foundation and Ocean Rider have not made important details publicly available on their website, and have not responded to my requests to find answers to these questions. A charity and conservation group should not be hiding their activities. In truth, I also debated writing this because many of my readers are customers and fans of Ocean Rider. I was torn over possibly alienating my audience. But I feel it’s important for someone to bring these questionable practices to light. Seahorse conservation is too important to be occurring haphazardly behind closed doors. So after much reflection, I decided informing the public was more important and so I charged ahead writing this article with the information is available. And to ask these questions publicly, since direct inquiries to the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation have been ignored. My most recent inquiry to the Seahorse Hawaii Foundation over two month ago in regards to their seahorse release program remains unanswered. An earlier inquiry about the nature of their foundation and it’s ties to the for-profit Ocean Rider also remains unanswered. My most recent inquiry: April 29,2014 “Greetings, I was reading about your seahorse release program. Can you provide some technical detail about the program? I’m curious to know what species you are releasing. I’m also curious how the location was selected for release and what sort of populations studies were done to determine suitable sites. My understand is that most conservation groups are moving away from releasing captive bred animals, so I’m curious as to how your plan came about and any other details you can give.” The earlier inquiry was asking about the exact relationship between the Hawaii Seahorse Foundation and the for-profit Ocean Rider. It failed to receive an answer as well. Seahorse Hawaii Foundation: The Secretive Charity It’s not just their release program that is missing information, the entire charity is surrounded by a conspicuous lack of detail. It is connected to the for-profit Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm, but they don’t give any indication of how they are connected, or what the donations will be used for. The information about their foundation and goals is vague at best. The goal stated on claims their mission is “Conservation, Education, Research & Propagation.” Yet they’ve never released a paper on any topic regarding seahorses. They go so far as to claim that information is proprietary. From first hand reports by visitors to their farm, they’re rather secretive about the workings of both the farm and the charity. A direct quote from their page on Conservation: “Ocean Rider does NOT disclose its breeding technology, grow-out technology, or species names of their famous sea horses for proprietary reasons.“ This statement on their page about conservation blows my mind. A conservation group that refuses to share the information they collect is the antithesis to the goals of science and research. It flies in the face of conservation efforts. This is a damning statement that exposes how little they are actually concerned with saving seahorses. Directly from Ocean Rider’s Conservation Page This not the actions of a conservation group, it’s the actions of a company looking to hoard information for profit. Meanwhile, Ocean Rider has a history of taking information from others and using it to their advantage. Knowledge gathering is a one way transaction with Ocean Rider. And it’s a dead end. Bad Charity, Wasted Donations The Seahorse Hawaii Foundation is too small to have been researched by many of the bigger charity review companies, which is a shame. But their sister company Ocean Rider has a D through the Better Business Bureau. What little public information that is available indicates the charity arm files a 990-N, meaning they take in less than $50,000 a year. That’s all we know because it’s required by law to publish. Seahorse Hawaii Foundation doesn’t disclose any of their financial information, operating costs, or what precentage of the money collected goes back into the foundations stated goals. This is a pretty big red flag for charitable organizations. Every charity guide advises that you should only donate to charities that have a level of transparency that allows it’s donors to ensure the money they are donating is being used responsibly. Guidestar has limited details, which is essentially the information that is publicly available by law. Alternative Charities If you are looking for alternatives ways to help seahorses, I strongly recommend Project Seahorse. They are involved in seahorse research, conservation and work with aquariums and zoos. Donating to your local zoo or public aquarium is another option, and even those not working directly with seahorses share the knowledge and experience, and in many cases, formal research that benefits other institutes. Seagrass conservation and restoration programs around the world are also great conservation efforts that have a direct impact on seahorses. Many also have programs where volunteers can help with these programs. Mote Marine Lab out of Florida does a lot of work with seahorses. The California Academy of Sciences has programs that explore seahorses in the wild, and are working with ghost pipefish, one of the unusual relatives of seahorses. Rising Tides Conservation Fund is a group dedicated to research on raising marine fish. The Florida Institute of Technology is teaching the next generation of conservationists and researchers and has a program dedicated to researching breeding marine fish with a strong focus on seahorses. These are just a few of the organizations that work towards conservation and expanding our knowledge of seahorses. All share information about the work they do and publicly disclose how funds are used, as well as share information learned. Releasing Seahorses Is A Bad Idea There is no evidence that programs like this work, and there are numerous risks that a release program could worsen the conservation status of seahorses. Numerous captive breeding and reintroduction programs have shown to fail. Ocean Rider’s decision to release seahorses through their Seahorse Hawaii Foundation is a misguided one at best, one that we, the public should not only not support, but should actively discouraged. Conservation programs shouldn’t be based on dumping excess animals into the wild. Ocean Rider should know better. References Genetic Drift. In Wikipedia. Retrieved July 2, 2014, from Into The Wild. In International Crane Foundation Retrieved July 2nd, 2014, from Releasing Captive Reptiles and Amphibians. In Herp Care Collection Retrieved July 1, 2014, from Rebecca Grey-Ross , Colleen T. Downs * & Kevin Kirkman (2009). Reintroduction Failure of Captive-Bred Oribi (Ourebia ourebi) In South African Journal of Wildlife Research Retrieved July 1, 2014, from GRIFFITHS, R. A. and PAVAJEAU, L. (2008), Captive Breeding, Reintroduction, and the Conservation of Amphibians. Conservation Biology, 22: 852–861. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.00967.x J.D. Allan. CAPTIVE BREEDING & SPECIES REINTRODUCTIONS, in CONSERVING BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Retrieved July 2, 2014 from Guidelines for Reintroduction of Animals Born or Held in Captivity. In Association of Zoos & Aquariums Retrieved July 3, 2014, from Captive Breeding Introduced Infectious Disease To Mallorcan Amphibians (2008). In Science Daily Retrieved July 3rd, 2014, from This entry was posted on Saturday, July 5th, 2014 at 12:51 pm and is filed under Conservation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Frozen Mysis Part 1: The Quest For Quality Mysis

A mix of bad and good mysis. Do you know which is which? Feeding seahorses in aquariums has long been regarded as one of the most important keys to success with these delicate animals. Widespread availability of captive bred seahorses has made feeding easier in recent years, but it is still fraught with challenges. One significant challenge Seahorse aquarists face is the daunting task of finding frozen mysis that is nutritionally intact. Many aquarists don’t realize that frozen shrimp degrade in quality rather quickly. It’s not uncommon for new seahorse keepers to overlook this part of seahorse care. Food that is in nutritional decline is easily missed of you don’t know what to watch out for. And the method an aquarist uses for storing frozen food at home can create situations that cause a rapid decline in the nutritional quality of their mysis. Frozen mysis is the staple diet of most seahorses and many other syngnathids in captivity. As a food source, it is a common part of a wild seahorse’s diet, and packs a great nutritional punch. A varied diet is the best diet, but most seahorse keepers fall back on mysis as the main staple because of widespread availability. And seahorses like it, which is a big boon for a fish that is renowned for being exceptionally finicky. Unfortunately for seahorse keepers, frozen seafood loses quality quickly and in a variety of circumstances. The fats in mysis, vitally important to seahorses, are prone to going rancid in any number of situations that can occur in holding and transporting frozen foods. If handled improperly, protein can be destroyed, losing important nutrients. Vitamins break down. What’s The problem? Frozen food is something people rarely give much thought. For many people, the assumption is that frozen food equals “safe” or “fresh” food. Unfortunately, there are many ways frozen food can degrade while still in a frozen state, and many more where it degrades due to how it is handled from manufacturer to end consumer. Frozen mysis should be handled just like frozen seafood for humans – it has a short “shelf life” even when kept at optimal conditions. Why does this matter? The same reason you would worry about the food you consume yourself; it affects the long term health of of your seahorses. This is particularly important if you are looking to breed seahorses, since the mother and father both contribute to the nutrition of the young, their health will directly impact the survivorship of their offspring. If you’re not discriminating with the foods you feed your seahorses, you can unwittingly offer them food that has degraded in quality. While one batch of bad food might not have noticeable effects immediately, if fed long term it can cause serious health issues. And seahorses, with their primitive digestive systems are particularly vulnerable to nutritional deficiencies. Proper and Improper Handling of Frozen Food While most manufacturers of frozen foods for fish do an excellent job of freezing and handling, problems frequently start once the food leaves their facility. There is a long chain from manufacturer to our home. Any of those steps in the chain can leave frozen food repeatedly thawed and refrozen, or kept at inadequate temperatures. As a result, many local fish stores and online vendors end up with food that has degraded to varying degrees. Sometimes it occurs during the distribution chain, from manufacturer to distributor. But it can also be from distributor to retailer or retailer to customer. To save money, frozen food is sometimes shipped using 2 day service. And with the proper packing and right weather conditions, 2 day shipping can be done correctly. Which means shipping in an adequate styrofoam box and using dry ice, in weather that is not too warm. Unfortunately as shipping costs have increased, the ability to ship properly has decreased. Dry ice has become more difficult to ship without special waivers and expenses. Styrofoam boxes are often too thin, and dry ice replace with frozen gel packs which don’t always stay frozen throughout the entire shipping process. Even if the frozen food is received in a still block solid state, employees and warehouse workers might not get it unpacked and into their own freezer in a timely manner. I’ve been involved in a number of warehouse operations, and it’s easy to see how a box can sit in the loading dock for extended time, especially when that day’s orders are particularly high. The primary reason improper handling during the shipping process is so detrimental, is that when the shrimp are thawed, inactive bacteria and enzymes immediately starts to attack the food, causing spoilage. Freezing does not kill bacteria, it only inactivates it, waiting for warmer temperatures to prevail. To further cause complications, freezing causes a breakdown of protein called protein denaturation, due to the enzymes and chemicals naturally found within the living tissue of seafood. Frozen seafood goes through this process once, and refreezing causes it to go through this a second time; further degrading protein. But, when a commercial operation freezes food, it uses specialty equipment to rapidly freeze foods. This is to reduce the damage to food. At frozen temperatures, the protein denaturation process is accelerated at around -1 to -2°C (30 to 28F). Commercial freezers rapidly push past this temperature to limit food quality loss. Without a specialty freezer, refrozen food might languish in this temperature range for an extended time before the internal temperature dives below this. Refrozen mysis is not fine. Ewww. Photo Courtesy of Louise Hines For fish stores, this can be particularly problematic: food might be partially thawed before it makes it into their freezer, and many times the food sits in a retailer’s freezer for months, well after the nutritional quality would decline. I’m certainly not the only one that has seen frozen food in fish store freezers that is multiple years old. Frozen food needs to be kept at a minimum of -30C (-22F) for the longest storage time. But this does not extend the storage time indefinitely. For shrimp, if handled optimally and kept at this temperature, estimates range from 6 months to 12 months. (More on this in Part 2). These may even be generous though, as important lipids don’t freeze until much colder temperatures. This also means that the food not be stored in a home freezer (smaller fish stores sometimes opt for this), which generally run between −23 to −18 °C (−9 to 0 °F), but rather a chest freezer or commercial freezer that reaches a minimum of -30C (-22F). This leaves many places that frozen food can be damaged in it’s journey from manufacturer to aquarists. The packaging might be inadequate going from manufacturer to distributor. The distributor might leave cartons on the docks for extended periods of time. Thawed mysis shrimp. Transporting from truck to freezer might mean they aren’t immediately place in the freezer. If partially thawed, they’ll be frozen again, causing a second and possible longer protein denaturation period. The freezer might not be cool enough to preserve some of the vital nutrients. And that’s just the distributor. It’s not just small shops either; the same thing happens with the big guys – I am unapologetic in my love of Dr. Foster and Smith. Yet, my experience with ordering frozen food has been middling at best. Frequently I’ve received food that’s partially thawed. I’ve received food that is well frozen, but clearly thawed and refrozen at some point (which is usually obvious based on the brown hue along with weird air bubbles in the packages.) Other aquarists have noticed the same thing on various forums, but were not aware that this caused a degradation of food quality. Dr. Foster and Smith has always gone above and beyond to try to resolve the problems; in one case trying to send the frozen food 3 different times at their cost. This isn’t meant to be an indictment as them as a company, rather an explanation that even the best guys out there struggle with the handling of frozen food. Other, less reputable companies have denied that thawed or discolored food is a sign of a problem. One particular UK shop is known for shipping frozen food without any insulation, and refusing refunds, insisting the food is perfectly fine upon refreezing. Packing frozen food this way is unacceptable in any weather. It lacks any real insulation. Photo Courtesy of Catherine Harris. Age and Expiration Dates Seafood is recommended to be no more than 6 months, and as little as 3 months. This is because in a home freezer, the temperatures are not low enough to stop the polyunsaturated fatty acids from breaking down. It’s what makes old fish taste “fishy” when cooked. The rancid fats don’t cause imminent danger, but they break down into unhealthy components. Some of these compounds are toxic, especially if consumed over a long enough time. Not only that, they no longer provide the necessary fuel for our seahorses, which need a diet high in polyunsaturated fats. These are the “good fats” people look for in seafood. Unfortunately, sale of older frozen foods for our fish is very common. This can be a problem with the wholesaler or at the fish store level. Hobbyists themselves are sometimes stock up on large quantities, unaware that age is an issue. This expiration date of 2016/11 is not possible in most real world conditions. Mysis should be used within 2 months of the date that it is frozen unless one has access to freezers capable of sustained temperatures below -30C (-22F), largely because of the short timeframe that it takes for polyunsaturated fatty acids to break down in home freezers. (More on the breakdown of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the forthcoming part 2.) The expiration dates on frozen food packaging further confuses the issue of food quality. A few frozen food companies use expiration dates – Hikari™ is one of them. The expiration date on mysis is dated 2 years after production. According to Hikari’s customer service, this date is what they have “ . . . confirmed the integrity of the animal and the added vitamins are still effective”. This is misleading to the general public. Two years isn’t really the amount of time the food is good for in real world conditions. While it might keep mysis intact in specialty freezers frozen food manufacturers has access to, once it leaves their facility, it’s nearly impossible to expect those conditions to be replicated. The two year expiration date is far too long to still be usable and have maintained nutritional integrity in any freezer either your fish store or your hobbyists have access to. But those expiration dates gives the aquarist a false sense of security about the quality of frozen food. Old Hikarki™ mysis compared to fresh mysis Hikari™ is just one example here. I inquired with Ocean Nutrition™, who also uses long expiration dates, for more information. I have not received an answer at the time of publication to clarify their expiration timeframe. I have received packages of their mysis with an expiration date 17 months from the time the food was received. Expiration dates on perishable items has been a long-standing problem for the aquarium industry. Aquarists like and expect expiration dates; they give some sense of product freshness and quality. Retailers, on the other hand, loath these dates. Expiration dates mean a shelf life, requiring smaller quantities must be ordered, usually at a higher price. Otherwise product is wasted if not purchased in a set time frame. The long expiration dates on frozen food do not match with the actual time that the foods remain good in home and store freezers. There are countless studies on how long seafood remains nutritionally complete. The longest dates generally accepted in the food industry is 12 months for shrimp if handled and stored under ideal circumstances. Many industry guides recommend no more than 6 months for frozen whole shrimp. Finding Good Mysis Finding quality mysis can be really tricky. Like our seahorse charges, we must be finicky about food. I know plenty of seahorse aquarists that pour over every pack of mysis at their fish store looking for the freshest packs. I wish I had a simple answer to finding the best mysis, but handling issues are rampant in the industry. I suspect this is because aside from a few of us hardcore seahorse nuts, most aquarists don’t realize the importance of high quality frozen food or that there is even a problem . Seahorse aquarists have a particular need of high quality food because it’s usually the main food their seahorses eat, and for many, the only food. Color Color has long been used as a way of determining the quality and freshness of fish and seafood for human consumption, and the same works for mysis shrimp for our seahorses. Look for the whitest mysis you can find. The majority of mysis on the market is very white in coloration once frozen. P.E. Mysis™ is the exception, they have orange/yellow/pink fat globules in their stomachs, but the tail section should be white. White Mysis cube compared to a discolored cube. My own experience suggests that food that is thawed and refrozen tends to lean towards tan/brown coloration, and old food or food stored in warmer freezers tends to look grey, rather than bright white. If they mysis you have access to is off white, grey, tan or brown, you should pass. This includes the ice it is packed in. Compare the discolored mysis on the left to the good mysis on the right, both after rinsing. Many of the examples included in this article are extreme examples. Color shifts that indicate poor quality are often more subtle. Package Clues You can often determine if frozen food has been thawed and refrozen by package shape. Flat packs should be flat and solid, with the plastic touching the frozen food. Mysis is frozen in blocks of ice to help prevent oxidation and that should be touching the plastic. If a has unusual air bubbles, that’s a strong suggestion it was thawed and was refrozen. If the flat pack is anything but flat, that is also a strong suggestion it’s been refrozen. Cube packs can be a little more difficult to discern. However, there are often some telltale signs. Look for air bubbles at the bottom, or gaps. Food frozen at an angle in the cubes suggests refreezing. Refroze mysis, notice the bubbles in the cubes in addition to the tan/pink color. Photo courtesy of Louise Hines. Dimples and crush points suggest thawing as well; the frozen food acts as a reinforcement to the plastic packaging, and when thawed, do not provide much structural support. If the cubes are concave or corners crushed, there is a strong likelihood it was refrozen. Ordering Online I’ll be completely honest – one of my biggest pet peeves is when a company selling perishable products don’t pack correctly for the weather. We’ve know for years how best to pack perishable items; and yet it’s often under-packed. It’s my opinion that frozen food should be shipped with dry ice, the exception being the winter in northern climates. But most companies use gel packs as there is additional cost to shipping with dry ice, including training staff for safe handling. Adequate packing for winter and cooler months, but a thicker wall styrofoam and dry ice would work better, especially in warm weather. Sometimes frozen gel packs work out, but sometimes the food arrives partially thawed. If the later happens, demand a refund and trash the food (or return if they’d rather have you do that.) Is it frustrating? Yes. But nothing will change unless the majority of consumers make poor shipping practices unacceptable. Which, it really makes it important to check with online vendors beforehand not only what their guarantee is for quality of food, but specifically how they ship. As mentioned earlier, one vendor in the UK is notorious for shipping frozen food with no insulation other than packing peanuts, and insisting the customer can just refreeze the thawed food without any loss of quality. This is simply not true, and a basic understanding of food safety will tell you this is a bad idea. It would be like deciding to cook and eat chicken that’s been sitting raw on the counter all night. Sure, you might not get sick, but do you want to take that chance? Neither should you with your seahorse’s food. Other Frozen Foods The same applies other frozen food types. However, this article focuses on the mysis as it is one of the most important foods for captive syngnathids. It is also frequently easy to identify problems based on the color of frozen mysis. But I’ve come across brown/black Cyclop-eeze™, freezer burned krill, and a whole host of other bad frozen foods – if anything seems off, don’t feed to your seahorses (or any fish, for that matter). Storing Frozen Food If possible, store frozen foods and a chest freezer or similar dedicated freezer. Chest freezers and dedicated upright freezers are much preferable to those that are a fridge/freezer as those are usually defrosting freezer; these work by cycling warmer temperatures to melt the frost. These typical home freezers also don’t get as cold, nor stay as cold, causing breakdown of nutrients to occur even in the frozen state. Unfortunately, no typical home freezer is going to be ideal for long term storage of fish food. If you only have access to a freezer fridge combo, be sure to only buy up to two months worth of food. If you have a standalone or chest freezer that can get down to -30C (-22F), you may be able to safely keep mysis up to 6 months from manufacture. Conclusion These problems with frozen fish food occur across the industry and around the globe. While many manufacturers of these foods have put the effort in to get the best quality food on the market, the end of the supply chain is often another story. And aquarists buy degraded food because most are unaware that this is even an issue. Those that do know better are left with little choice because that’s all that is available to them. Some aquarists make their own foods, which can help in some ways. But those of use seahorse and pipefish keepers are limited to specialty foods that are only found through pet supply companies. Hopefully, with increased awareness, more customers will demand better handled food, and in turn, more stores will opt to ensure they carry the freshest, healthiest foods for our seahorses. Part Two to follow shortly: Frozen Mysis Part 2: The Science Behind Frozen Food. Photo Examples Included are some examples collected of mysis that has been improperly handled and stored. They tend to be extreme examples but are not uncommon. References Lipid Peroxidation. In Wikipedia. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from Blast Freezing. In Highland Refrigeration. Retrieved May 5, 2014, from Roxie Rodgers Dinstel (2013). Home Freezing of Fish. [PDF File] Cooperative Extension Service. Retrieved May 2, 2014, from Handling and Processing Shrimp. In Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Retrieved May 2, 2014, from W.A. Johnston, F.J. Nicholson, A. Roger and G.D. Stroud (1994). Freezing and Refrigerated Storage In Fisheries. In Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Retrieved May 6, 2014,from J. Graham (1981). Planning and engineering data 3. Fish freezing In Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Retrieved May 2, 2014, from Special thanks to David Warland, Catherine Harris, Eric Baer, Dan Underwood, Louise Hines and Tim for your photos, help, support, suggestions and encouragement! This entry was posted on Sunday, May 11th, 2014 at 4:35 pm and is filed under Food And Nutrition. 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Seahorse Canada: Canadian Seahorses At Last!

A flirty pair of seahorses from Seahorse Canada. Canadians have long had trouble getting true captive bred seahorses. CITES has had the unfortunate side effect of restricting access to Captive Bred seahorses to Canada, and while a few overseas companies do ship across the border, it’s a difficult process. No more! Seahorse Canada has recently opened it’s doors, specializing in captive bred seahorses. Their first offering is the Lined Seahorse Hippocampus erectus. H. erectus are considered the hardiest of the seahorses, making this an excellent first offering. This is doubly good news, as many of the tank raised seahorses that make it into Canada tend to species that are more difficult to keep. A beautiful group of Lined Seahorses showing long cirri, the fleshy growths that help them blend into algal environments. And did I mention they’re true captive bred seahorses? Seahorse Canada is a home based breeding facility, allowing Angelo Guaragna, his girlfriend Eve Herman and Thanny, the resident “seahorse whisperer” , to monitor their seahorses 24/7 and ensure they are getting the best care. Those of you familiar with seahorses know that many tank raised seahorses fair poorly in home aquariums, so having access is to true captive bred seahorses north of the border will make seahorse keeping a much easier prospect for Canadians. Yellow Lined Seahorse showing the bright colors they can achieve. I took a few minutes of their time to ask how they got started. Eve had her first experience with seahorses at 8 years old, given to her by her mother; this started a lifelong love of seahorses.  Just under four years ago, her interest in seahorses sparked the set up of a few marine tanks. The care and attention of Thanny, along with help from saltwater expert Colin from Reef Boutique Toronto, helped to inspire them to take their passion to the next level. So, after a few years of research and experimenting with different species, foods and environments, they have been successful in breeding H. erectus and are currently in process of trying to breed H. reidi. Eve, Angelo and Thanny, were able to get their breeding operation off the ground. Seahorse Canada is currently working towards raising the ever popular Brazilian Seahorse. Seahorse Canada is currently researching shipping methods, and have shipped as far as Ottawa. They are continuing to research  best shipping practices so they can offer their seahorses to aquarists across the country. Seahorse Canada hopes to offer supplies and specialty foods for seahorses soon. And they are currently working with the Brazilian Seahorse, H. reidi, which they plan to offer in the future. Oh Canada, you have your seahorses now! Many beautiful seahorses available to Canadians. This entry was posted on Saturday, February 22nd, 2014 at 5:41 pm and is filed under Aquarium Care. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed. is the world's leading destination for sustainable coral reef farming and the aquarium hobby. We offer a free open forum and reef related news and data to better educate aquarists and further our goals of sustainable reef management.