Top 5 things I wish I had known BEFORE buying seahorses!

Seahorses are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.  Okay….minus my children.  And, my boyfriend is quite a catch.  I have some amazing friends too.  But, seahorses are magical, and once you fall in love with them, it is forever!  After every mistake, loss, heartbreaking illness and lesson learned with seahorses, I would not take back a single minute of the years I have spent owning them.

However, if I could go back all of those years and change a few decisions (or listen more closely to my mentors), I would certainly do a few things differently.  And, if I can prevent even one person from repeating my mistakes, this video and article will have fulfilled their goals!  So, here are the top 5 things I wish I had known about Seahorses BEFORE I bought them:

  1. Quality over was the place that I bought my first erectus seahorses.  Through that purchase, I met my mentor and friend Dan Underwood.  We now laugh about that first phone call….so many years ago….when I squabbled about the price of shipping, and pointed out that the seahorses were actually cheaper on one of the “saltwater giant” websites.  Today I understand the difference between a truly captive bred seahorse, and what I might get instead by gambling with large online vendors.  Just because their price might be cheaper, and they might claim they sell CB seahorses does not mean they will be of the same quality as that of a breeder’s.  To be clear, there are MANY very good vendors who also work very hard to provide quality, and even some companies like Aquabox who provide conditioned fish (meaning they’ve been quarantined and treated before sold).  But, spending a lot of money and time setting up for seahorses, only to try to skimp on the price of the actual fish does not make much sense.  Whether you choose to buy from a breeder or store, a “good price” should be a red flag to at least investigate before buying.  Here are some important points to consider when choosing where to buy:

    • Not only do breeders care about the seahorses they personally raise to sell, but their entire business and livelihood depend on their quality.  If a breeder sells a seahorse that is sick, it could ruin their reputation.  Looking at this in a strictly business sense, you are much more likely to get healthy seahorses to begin with from a breeder, who has a personal stake in the sale.  Seahorses that have to be shipped multiple times before arriving at a store go through more stressful situations, which promote illness.  A breeder will also answer all your questions about set up and care before, during and after a sale, and be personally involved in seeing you succeed. The amount saved on shipping or discounts in buying a seahorse from a cheaper source are usually eaten up quickly in buying live foods, medications to treat, and replacements.  Wheth
    • The terms “tank raised” and “captive bred” mean different things these days.  In a seahorse breeding facility, CB are raised in sterile conditions and not exposed to the things that wild seahorses encounter.  A breeder can tell you your seahorse’s date of birth, the parameters of his or her tank so that you can duplicate them, and guarantee that the seahorses have never been exposed to the bad things like internal worms and parasites, that can become problems with wild caught.
    • Buying from a breeder supports conservation of the wild.  Breeders work extremely hard to provide captive bred seahorses that are conditioned to live in an aquarium and are used to eating frozen foods.  This means that any hobbyist can buy a seahorse that was born in a tank, and leave the wild seahorses in their natural habitat.  
  1. Temperature matters!  Unfortunately, I learned the reason for the advised guideline to keep seahorse tanks under 74 degrees personally.  When my central air stopped working one day, my adolescent tank hit 80 degrees before I discovered the issue.  The 3 erectus that I had lovingly raised for the past 7 months began having problems immediately after the temp spike.  Vibrio is one of those pesky “bad” bacteria that are present in all tanks, but only become a problem in certain conditions.  The temperature spike was the condition they needed to multiply and cause illness.  My babies started losing skin and getting sicker and sicker.  I was able to save them (thanks to help from mentors…you can see the experience by clicking here) but I could have avoided it all by keeping a stable temperature below 74 degrees.
    • Temperature is also important when considering tank mates and coral.  Once you understand the importance of keeping the temperature stable and beneath 74, you have to keep only organisms that can live in this environment.  If you add coral, fish and/or macros that need different temps, they will die and cause an ammonia spike and/or nutrient problems.
  2. Seahorses do not need “low flow”!

    If there was one thing that all the experts got wrong….this is it!  You will read over and over again that seahorse tanks need “low flow”.  For every place that you read this, I can post a video showing a seahorse “FLOW DANCING” or sleeping hitched to a covered wave maker.  To be clear, I am talking about larger species of captive bred seahorses in the hobby, as the tiny dwarf seahorses and some wild species do need low flow environments.  But, the majority of seahorses that you will find available to hobbyists love flow.  They do not want conditions with such strong flow that it prevents them from swimming around, but every part of the tank should show movement, with a few places to rest and relax.  My seahorse tanks sport covered  and wavemakers and my seahorses are more active and happier when the flow is strong!

    • This is also important when considering the dead spots that can accumulate waste in an aquarium.  If you don’t want a tank covered in nuisance algae, or seahorses covered in cyano, then keeping parameters stable can be combined with higher flow to help avoid these issues!  Making sure that things stay in motion also prevents a lot of illnesses related to buildup.  When there are dead spots for seahorse poop, dead things and extra food to buildup, it was always give bad bacteria a home to thrive in.  I prefer the adjustable wavemakers and pumps like the because the strength of the flow can be adjusted based on the seahorses’ reactions and behaviors.
  3. Variety in diet is crucial!  

    I recently did an interview about live feeds with Chad Clayton of Reef Nutrition / Reed Mariculture (click here to watch the interview)   One of the things that I realized throughout the interview was how important it is to provide variety to a seahorse’s diet.  Feeding frozen mysis 2-3 times a day, with a live treat daily or weekly will keep seahorses healthy and fat.  Copepods provide nutrition that frozen foods never can, and when copepods, artemia and/or other live foods are enriched, they become an even more important addition.  It’s literally like giving a seahorse a shot of energy or nutrition.  Vitamins, medications or whatever you want can be fed to the organisms that will become the seahorses’ food.  It’s important to note that you don’t want to give too many live treats, as this could cause a seahorse to “demand” only live foods and stop taking frozen.  But, providing an enriched treat now and then can actually increase their health!

  4. Quarantine can prevent disaster! 

    Number 5 is the most important of all! Everyone talks about quarantine and most people will say that it should be done, but very few actually take the time to quarantine properly.  There are different ways to quarantine (QT), which I cover in my article “How to quarantine”.  But whether you choose to quarantine just to observe, treat or use the tank transfer method, you can save a ton of time and energy by discovering issues before they affect the display tank.  Seahorses are stressed out when you first get them.  Their defense system that fights off things that can hurt them is lowered when they are stressed out.  Putting them in a quarantine tank lets them calm down, start eating and get used to you before being put into a tank with bacteria and other organisms.

    • If the seahorse does have a parasite or bacterial infection, you can easily treat in the QT, and avoid having to kill all the good things in the display tank with medications (or risk reinfection because the parasite or bacteria could still be in the tank when treated seahorses are reintroduced).
    • Finally, quarantining any new additions (snails, coral, macros, fish, everything) is not a difficult task, but can keep anything bad from getting into the tank and hurting the seahorses.

BONUS NUMBER 6:  ADVISERS ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS THEIR EXPERIENCE!  There are about 9,999,999,999….(well you get my point) ways to do things.  I’ve written about “risk tolerance” and “internet bubbles” too often to repeat myself yet again.  But, the bottom line is, if your seahorses are happy….you’re doing something right!  I enjoy seeing the numerous seahorse tanks that are extremely different than mine, as long as the seahorses are still healthy and happy.  There are very few truly “wrong” ways to maintain a seahorse tank, but the guidelines are there for a reason.  People who have kept seahorses for a long time came up with them, and they have not changed very much over time.  If you are asking or receiving advice, ask the source how long they have kept seahorses, if they still keep seahorses, and ask to see their actual tanks.  Even a person with a lot of saltwater or reef experience is still a “newbie” when they start their first seahorse tank.  New seahorse keepers are awesome for sharing their discoveries and experiences, spreading the seahorse love! But, always keep in mind that people give advice based on their own experiences, which you might find out are very limited and based on too many factors to be a good example for you to follow.
Watch the video:

My guidelines and videos are mainly for new seahorse keepers, and promote a low maintenance system to let you get to know your seahorses.  When you get to know them first, it becomes easier to see behavior changes that might indicate a problem.  This lets you can catch problems before they become fatal.  Many of my personal mistakes were because I did not consider these 5 points important enough.  So, I hope that you are smarter than I was and take them to heart!