Shipping Seahorses - pictorial

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  • Offline TamiW
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Shipping Seahorses - pictorial

« posted: 4 years ago »
I thought I'd share how I ship seahorses, so any breeders or even people trading or selling seahorses have an example to use. I don't claim my way is the best, but it seems to work quite well. And I owe a lot/most of it to Seahorse Source , who I have unabashedly copied to have the best shipping experience for my seahorses.

I suggest reading the entire thing before shipping your seahorses. There are things that need to be prepared and purchased in advance that come up at different parts in this post. I've written it in the order of how I generally pack seahorses.

The first thing you need is a holdfast for shipping. Again, thanks Dan & Abby for this idea, it was better than anything I was able to come up with.

To make this, you need plastic garden fence available at most garden stores or home improvement centers. The one you want is 1"x1", and rigid. I've only seen it in green. The black variant is a netting and too thin and could possibly harm a seahorse.

You also need some type of ceramic "noodle", which is sold as filter material. I use Marineland Ceramic Filter Rings

You'll want to cut it into a 2x2 square, making sure to cut the corners so there is no sharp points to poke through the bag.

Cut in the middle of two of the squares that are on one side.

Slide the rings over the fencing where you cut it. If you cut it over the middle, it should be very difficult for it to slide off.


For bags, I use gusseted bags (flat bottom) because it is more seahorse friendly. It's actually better for most fish, but they are more expensive and harder to find. I generally use a 4"x6" for a pair, and 5"x7" for two pairs. I'm probably overly cautious; depending on the size of the juveniles I think more could safely travel that way. But I feel better with a little extra room. I get the bags from Seahorse Source also carries the 4"x6" size.

The two sizes here:

This is how the bag "stands", which makes a more comfortable platform for seahorses, and doesn't have the corners fish can get stuck in.

And here it is with water:

I fill the bags so they're approximately 1/3rd full of the total volume after the bag is closed. This can be hard to judge at first, so you may want to use whatever styro you're shipping in as a guide. Here, since I'm demonstrating using a used bag, you can see kind of where the closure point will be (it's more wrinkled).

The bags don't really stand up on their own, so I use a bucket padded with paper towels to hold the bag upright while packing. Here is an example, with the holdfast inside.

Now, when you're filling the bag with water, you have a choice to make, fill it with tank water or with "new" (properly mixed and aged) water. I use new water. I've read tons about shipping fish and there is quite a lot of debate about it. If I were shipping freshwater, I'd use tank water because parameters can vary so much. But because saltwater parameters should be within the same range, I opted to go for new water. I did it because I feel like it's the best for the fish to start out with the cleanest water possible.

After I've got the water where I think it should be, I add the seahorses by gently lifting the seahorses out of their tank and into the bag. I withhold food before shipping for about 18 hours. I feed them one last time at night, and then ship them in the afternoon so they are in shipping as little time as possible.

I have been using oxygen the last few months, the small bottles you can find at the hardware store.. You don't need to use oxygen, but I feel it provides a little extra insurance in case things go wrong and they are delayed. I honestly don't know if it makes a difference, as the only DOA was when I used USPS and they lost a package over a weekend. More on that later.

I had to buy a specialty valve from a home brewery website, Williams Brewing. It was $30 but worth it. You might be able to find one locally if there are any brewery shops. One important thing to note is that these small oxygen tanks are threaded in the opposite direction from normal threading. This is so if you have one of the kits with propane, you don't confuse the two. But it throws me off every time I change a tank out.

I can fill 6-12 bags with one tank. I could get a bigger tank at a lower cost, but they are dangerous. Heck, so are the small ones, but less so. Keep that in mind, these can explode.  I keep mine in an ammo crate to offer a little protection.

Once the seahorses are in the bag, that's when you fill it with air. This is the reason you only fill 1/3 of the way with water. Air is more important to the fish's survival, as water can only hold so much. So you fill with air, which allows CO2 to cycle out and O2 to cycle in.

I can't express how important this is. People frequently overfill with water starting out. Most times it's okay, but I've seen novices fill a bag full of water and no air, and suffocate fish within the 20 minutes it takes to drive to a fish store.

If you don't fill with oxygen, you have to either use a standard air pump, or you have to "catch" the air by grabbing the bag closed very fast. It's a skill. If you think you want to do this, practice it before you bag your seahorses. Having the water in the bottom for practice helps.

Once you have it filled to 1/3 water, 2/3 air/oxygen, you'll need to twist the bag closed where the top of the bag is just at the top of your styrofoam container. You want to twist it several times. Twist the top, not the bottom, you don't want to make your seahorses vomit.

Okay, they can't vomit. But they'd wish they could if you spin the lower portion with them in there. I've seen fish store employees do this, and it makes me sad.

It should look like this:

You'll have wanted to get your rubber bands ready in advance (this is why I suggest reading the article first!). You're going to wrap the rubber band around the base of the twisted part i.e. the top of the air space in the bag. Like so:

Wrap it twice around the base, twisting the rubber band once each "loop".

Once you've got it around the base twice, we're going to fold the twisted part of the plastic bag over. You sould still have the excess rubber band around one of your fingers.  Like it is here with my thumb:

Now wrap it around the folded piece:

Twist, and wrap again. Do this as many times as there is slack in the rubber band. It will vary depending on the size of the rubber band. If it's a small rubber band you may only be able to do this once. If that's the case, add a second rubber band, and wrap it tight around the folded piece. If it's a large rubber band, you will likely need only the one, wrapping it several times.

Single bag. Inspector Meekah making sure it passes quality control.

The next step is double bagging the seahorses. I didn't include photos of how to do it, but basically you place the first bag in the second bag, with the rubber band/closure side up. Some tutorials recommend flipping the bag upside down, but that's the nice thing about the gusseted bags; you don't need to do that.

Close the bag the same way, twisting it at the top, and rubber banding the same way you did the first bag. I frequently offset the second bag just a bit so the second closure is slightly to the side of the first one, just so it doesn't make the bag too tall.

Double Bagged:

The next step is packing it in a styrofoam box. You want a box that is as small as will safely fit the bag, because shipping gets expensive as a side of the box goes over 12". My standard box is 13"x10"x12", with an interior of 8"L x 6"W x 9"H. This will fit a single 4"x6" and need padding, or a single 5"x7"bag with no padding. It needs to have a fitted cardboard exterior.

I use Polar Tech in Illinois. However, you're best bet is to find a company close to you, because shipping gets expensive due to size. Polar Tech is one state away, so they can ship me a carton of boxes for a few bucks. It helps to shop around, the prices seem to vary a lot as well as minimum order quantity for discounts. My boxes cost around $7 each. However, a closer manufacture has them for $12/ea. Even with the lower priced ones it's probably the most expensive part of shipping other than the shipping costs themselves.

You can also make your own box out of styrofoam available at home depot. I know many people do this and it lowers the price considerably. I've done it for non-seahorses, but seahorses I still feel best using the molded boxes.

With the molded boxes, you'll want to take the styrofoam outside of the outer box to pack the seahorses and get everything sorted, including adding a cold or heat pack.

Seahorses in the styro:

If they don't fit perfectly, you'll want to pack the box with material to fill it in. The idea is to pack it just tight enough so that it doesn't shift when shipping. Don't use biodegradable packing peanuts. A small drop of water can ruin your padding.  The 5"x7" bags don't need padding, the 4"x6" do. I've also used foam and bubble wrap to pad them. The extra padding also acts as extra insulation.

Temperature control is very important when shipping, which is why I prefer 1.5" walled boxes. But it's a delicate act balancing insulation and additional temperature support. You can't stop the temperature change inside a box, only delay it, and that's the purpose of the insulation.

Insulation alone often isn't enough. So you want to use frozen cold packs in the summer, and heat packs in the winter. And not the pocket packs you can buy. Those burn too quickly and hotly. You need at least a 40 hour pack, made for the length of time they last. They work by a chemical reaction with air, and need time to warm up. It's best to wrap them up in something like paper towel for an hour or two before shipping. I then tape them to the lid. You never want them to touch the water, as they can overheat it. So taping them to the top is so important. But they need a buffer between the foam and the plastic bag so they can continue to use air and function. All they do is add heat, as you attempt to make up for lost heat.

Cold packs work the same way. You're attempting to cool down the temp as it slowly equalizes with the outside temperature. One thing people seem to forget in the summer is that even if the temperature is mild, say 70-80 degrees, something that might be tolerable to a fish in an aquarium, once you are shipping those temperatures can be deadly. There is the risk of it sitting on a pallet on the tarmac for hours before being loaded into a plane, which can be 20-50 degrees warmer than the ambient temperature. And warm water holds less oxygen, so with a limited supply of water and no water movement, high temperatures become deadly fast. I once received a package in the middle of summer that have 1/2 styrofoam and no cold pack. Needless to say, it wasn't a pretty picture.

Cold packs should be also wrapped in something like paper towels, in this case it's to prevent condensation from loosening the tape. And it should be taped to the lid for the same reason; you never want the cold pack touching the water; it could cause it to cool down and kill the seahorses. Cold packs should be kept in the freezer until you're ready to use them.

One thing to keep in mind is the weather through the entire trip. Living in Wisconsin, the fall and spring can be especially tricky. It can be cold here, but hot elsewhere. It's a tricky balance, and I don't know I have the answer. I just try to use my best judgement based on what conditions are here and the receiving location and try to protect against the most extreme conditions. If it's 60 here and 90 in the receiving location, they're getting cold packs.

Once you have the seahorses in the styro and heat or cold pack taped to the lid, you need to seal the box with packing tap. I try to make the bag and pack ever so slightly oversized so when I go to tape it, I have to press down a bit. This locks the bag in place, so it isn't bashed around too much in shipping.

I didn't photograph taping it up (sorry, I forgot!) But I tape all 4 sides down vertically, then run tape around the seam between the top and the box, to really seal the box, both for temperature control, and heaven forbid, leaks.  Once that's done, the styrofoam container is placed back in it's box.

Then tape the cardboard box closed.

The last step is to weigh the box. You can take it to your shipper and have them weigh it if you don't have a scale, but you will pay slightly more for shipping that way. If you can accurately calculate the price and print the label at home, most shippers have a discount. This is my shipping station:

Yes, it's the stove. It just happens to be a very convenient flat surface to put the scale on. I don't have a permanent shipping station, and hopefully never will!

As far as shipping goes, you have three providers; USPS, FedEx and UPS. USPS takes live fish no questions asked but NEVER TELL THEM. They handle live animals differently than other express packages. They don't put them through automatic sorters. Which makes sense if you're shipping 12 1 day old chicks, it doesn't make sense when you're shipping a highly padded, insulated box. The next day guarantee is null and void, and instead they have three days to deliver your package.

USPS is by in far the cheapest, but at a price. I've had packages delivered a day late on multiple occasions. What's strange is for a very long time I had no problem using USPS. Then earlier this year, had several late packages. In all but one case where it was over a weekend, the seahorses arrived fine. I stopped and went to only using FedEx, but have, at the request of a few people looking to save money, still shipped USPS. It's been 50/50 so far as to getting there on time or being delayed a day. I'm sure the use of oxygen has helped.

One additional problem with USPS is that they don't have overnight to all locations. It simply isn't an option for some people.

FedEX and UPS require you to have your shipping method tested. Or you can do what most hobbyists do is lie through your teeth about the contents. I've heard from many people that frequently they don't care even if they know. Until they do care. Both are more expensive. I haven't used UPS. FedEx is frequently twice as expensive as USPS, and getting discounts is difficult. You have to ship a lot of packages to get the shipping down. But you can't do that if you aren't selling a lot of fish, so you end up with insane shipping rates. To make matters worse, FedEx raised their shipping prices earlier this year. I've seen prices over $100 for standard overnight, with a discount.

There are a few things you can do though to lower it. First, make an account. You can get a discount that way. You can also get a bigger discount if you're an ebay seller. I don't know if they actually require you to sell anything first to get the discount since it was after I started to sell via ebay that I discovered this. It's still quite expensive - that $100 for standard overnight was with my ebay discount. Ouch, I know.

One last thing to look into is local delivery. For instance, a customer of mine turned me on to SpeeDee shipping, which does overnight really inexpensively to Wisconsin, Illinois and Minnesota. It's more of a pain to use because they have one place that's not close to me as the drop off location, so I can either pay a premium for pickup, or drive a half hour both ways. But it's still cheaper than FedEx and UPS, and more reliable than USPS.

So, if anyone is thinking of shipping seahorses, I hope this helps! If you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I can't guarantee I'll know the answer, but I'll try!

« Last Edit: 4 years ago by TamiW »

  • H. erectus, H. comes, H. kuda, H. zosterae, Doryrhamphus excisus, Bryx dunckeri, Corythoichthys flavofasciatus
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Re: Shipping Seahorses - pictorial

« Reply #1 posted: 4 years ago »
Wow! What a great write up. :) :) :)
  • Offline DonnaFromLA
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Re: Shipping Seahorses - pictorial

« Reply #2 posted: 4 years ago »
 :)Great job with the tutorial Abby! ;)

Now, can you tell me why I would ever want to breed seahorses and sell them?  ::) We already know that there is no $$$ to be made because of how much everything costs and how long it takes before they are ready to be sold to their new homes. That is of course if you can at that time have the heart to give them away, and not want to keep this one, because it was the first to look you in the eye that special way, or the other one who follows you around when you are cleaning the tank, or maybe that one, who has that little spot of yellow on her know all the reasons, I don't have to tell you...then there are all the 999 other reasons why you can't sell them yet, they are too small, they still need to learn how to eat frozen, maybe just a few more weeks, oh look this one may have that spot of blue that I was trying to get...and the list goes on..and on...and on....
Besides all the customers who want them for practically nothing, because they think, well geeze, she has so many, what's the difference if she sells it to me for $20.00 less, she don't need to make that much money on poor ole me now does she??? I mean really now, she's doing this from her home, can't she just sell it to me for half of what that professional man sell them for??? I mean really, how much work can it be taking care of a few seahorses...Shipping? How come I have to pay so much for shipping??? And what the heck does handling mean anyway???
I guess you get my drift, and you can see I am long winded today, cause I just need to keep talking or I will bust!
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Re: Shipping Seahorses - pictorial

« Reply #3 posted: 4 years ago »
Fantastic write up!!  Thanks Tami :)
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