Contrary to popular misconception, introducing a new fish to a saltwater aquarium is not a simple matter of floating the shipping bag in the tank for 15 or 20 minutes and then releasing the fish into its new home. Sure, this step may equalize the temperature of the water in the bag with that of the aquarium, but it does nothing to address specific gravity, pH, or other important water chemistry values.
To ensure your fine, finned friend has a chance to adjust with minimal stress to the water conditions in your system—which are almost assuredly different in some significant way from those in your dealer’s tanks—it’s important to acclimate it to your water gradually and methodically.
This can be achieved using several different acclimation techniques. The one we’ll discuss here is a form of drip acclimation that can be completed in 10 easy steps using materials you probably already have on hand. You can use this technique any time you’re putting a new fish in quarantine or transferring a quarantined specimen to your display tank.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A clean plastic or glass container (large enough to hold at least twice the volume of water your fish came in but not so wide across the bottom that the fish won’t be fully submerged in the shipping water alone)
- Several feet of flexible airline tubing
- An adjustable flow-control valve or clamp designed to fit the tubing
- A clean, dry cloth or towel
- A supply of clean salt water
Here’s how it’s done:
Ensure the airline tubing is long enough to extend from the aquarium down to your acclimation container with length to spare. Attach the flow-control valve or clamp to one end of the tubing. If you don’t have a flow-control valve or clamp, a simple alternative is to tie two or three loose knots along the length of the tubing.
Place the acclimation container below the level of the tank, and position the airline tubing so one end is submerged several inches below the water surface in the aquarium (you’ll need to clamp the tubing to the rim of the tank or wedge it between the tank rim and cover to hold it in place) and the end with the flow-control valve/clamp is suspended just above the acclimation vessel. If you use the knot method, it doesn’t matter which end is up.
Very gently pour the fish and shipping water from the bag into the acclimation container.
Start water flowing through the tubing by placing the open end into the effluent of a powerhead or filter return nozzle.
Quickly adjust the flow to a steady drip—approximately two or three drips per second—using the flow-control valve/clamp or by tightening/loosening the knots.
Drape the towel or cloth over the top of the container (loosely so you can easily pull it back to monitor progress) to help calm the specimen and prevent it from jumping out.
Allow the water to drip until the volume in the acclimation container doubles.
Drain off and discard half the water in the acclimation container (I use a clean turkey baster for this purpose), and resume dripping.
Once the water volume in the acclimation container doubles again, test the water parameters. If the specific gravity, pH, and temperature values aren’t identical to those in the aquarium or quarantine tank, continue dripping, draining, and testing until they are. At that point, it’s safe to go ahead and transfer the fish to its new home.
Top off your quarantine system or display tank with clean salt water to replace the water lost during the drip-acclimation procedure.