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Thread: It Was Acclimation, I know. . .

  1. #1
    Brittle Starfish

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    It Was Acclimation, I know. . .

    It was Acclimation, I know. . . [to the tune of Fascination)


    Wild caught fish acclimation to captive life can take hours, days or months. There are many stages or phases to this process. For the purposes of this post, the acclimation written about is the acclimation of the fish from its transport water to the quarantine tank (QT) water. That is, getting the fish used to the new water chemistries. The goal is to reduce stress on the fish and make an easy transition for the fish into new water. This translates to moving as quickly as possible but without injury/stress to the fish.

    During this phase of the overall acclimation process, there are several stresses occurring at the same time. Acclimation to new water quality is an attempt to reduce stress as soon as possible. The primary stressors are: the stress of being in the confining bag space (space stressor); the stress of being in old bag water and its pollutants; and the stress/shock/injury/death of being placed in water too different than the water it was used to being in. Acclimation is a trade-off between stresses of time in the (bad) bag water with the stresses of being placed into water with different chemistries. The acclimation process needs to be fast, but not too fast. What is the right speed? That depends on the species. In general, from the experience I have with these particular fishes:

    Angelfishes need to move along in the process - a shorter time is better but pH is important. This is where I prefer to adjust the quarantine tank water chemistry for sure, to cut ‘bag time.’
    Surgeonfishes need water quality perfection - a longer but better adjustment is to their advantage
    Butterflyfishes are variable - some are tolerable of water changes and some are less tolerable.

    The primary chemistries and water issues of this adjustment phase are temperature, salinity, and pH. These are readily measurable. But it is my belief that these aren’t all that matters. There are organics, lipids, and other chemicals that may separate or differentiate the bag water to the QT water. Still, it is generally recognized, these are not that important. I wonder. . .

    In the scheme of marine livestock going through this phase of the adjustment and speaking in generalities, fish acclimate to a change in water chemistries faster than invertebrates and slower than corals. They are ‘in between’ when it comes to chemistry acclimation. Fishes that are wild-caught will have the greatest challenge to acclimation to new water, since they come from an environment where very little change occurs. If there was a sure way of the aquarist putting the fish into exactly the same water the fish was already properly acclimated to, then this phase of the acclimation could literally be shortened to 20 minutes (for only a temperature match).

    There are dozens (at least) of these recommended acclimation procedures. Some with small variances, others significantly different. Ideally, the aquarist would have a QT setup and running with the exact water that the fish was originally maintained prior to acquisition. That is not likely information a home aquarists will have if the fish is bought online. Somethings just can’t be arranged for. Sometimes the aquarist is not at liberty to choose the acclimation process, or is restricted in some way.

    Although (as stated above) putting fish into the water they came from, only at the aquarist’s location would be the quickest and least stressful on the fish, buying fish from online sources is the source where the aquarist usually can’t find out the water quality the fish was in or came from. This is one reason to buy fish from a local fish store (LFS). If the water chemistry is determinable (testing the LFS water), then acclimation would and could be very quick. If the aquarist is buying fish on-line with a conditional guarantee, the seller may require a specific acclimation process in order to fulfill the conditions of the guarantee. Deviations from that process may void the guarantee. If the aquarist just purchased a marine fish from a local fish store (my recommendation) then the acclimation process is usually up to the aquarist (since most local fish stores don’t offer a conditional marine fish guarantee).

    Some aquarists believe that since the fish has been so badly treated through the system that, by the time they receive the fish, what’s the point of doing a proper acclimation procedures. True the fish may have been abused through the system by not getting proper acclimation from collector, to exporter, to wholesaler, to LFS, but that doubt is not a reason to not fulfill the fish’s requirements in the hands of the aquarist. There is a chance the fish had proper acclimation through the process and the ‘next-to-last’ acclimation (into a quarantine tank before acclimating to the display tank) should be just as easy and technically sound as it can be.

    Whatever acclimation procedure is used, the quarantine tank is the place to put the fish first. Before the fish arrives, the aquarist should be ready with a small stash of medicines and equipment for processing fish. See: Fish Medicine Cabinet. If it is known, the aquarist should adjust the QT water to match the water of the LFS water quality.

    I’ve acclimated thousands of marine fishes over the last 3.5 decades for display and research tanks and have settled upon one general process for the past several years when the information about original water quality is unavailable. I share my personal process with those who are interested, here on REEF FRONTIERS.


    There are generally two acquisition routes the average aquarist will obtain their marine fishes where the fish’s water quality is unknown. One is through an on-line provider. This procedure is also for anytime the fish is bagged for more than 4 hours in the same water. The other route is through a local fish store (LFS) when the aquarist has not gathered the LFS water quality information or when the QT water doesn’t match that of the water the marine fish has lived. This includes fishes acquired through trade or swaps where the fish was in its bag water for 4 hours or less and coming from unknown water.

    The fishes need to be treated a bit differently in these two cases, so depending upon the source, I begin my acclimation differently. That is one consideration.

    Another consideration is the species of fish. Each species has its own issues with regard to water chemistry -- both the changing of chemistries and the range of optimal chemistries. The acclimation process is customized to suit the fish. This is where most aquarists fail to appreciate the fish’s sensitivities. A truly advanced aquarist researches the fish they are interested in having come to live with them and prepares for that new arrival by knowing as much as reasonably possible about that fish. Today, with the vast resources available through the Internet, there is little excuse for the aquarist not to be armed with information and others’ experiences with the marine fish in question. Nonetheless there’s always the old standby ‘excuse:’ “I just couldn’t pass it up!”

    An important consideration is the ability to adjust the QT water to match the fish’s source water. But remember, this acclimation procedure is based upon this not being an option. With a QT system, the aquarist can make this transition much easier on the fish. Because at the outset, the QT water chemistry can be adjusted to the water chemistry the fish is in at the time of acquisition.



    1. Fish bag in a box
    a. Darken room (meaning, only muted natural daylight is allowed)
    b. Remove outer cardboard box (cut it away - don’t try to lift the Styrofoam container out)
    c. Cut Styrofoam sealing tape (if no tape, the shipper doesn’t know what they’re doing)
    d. Open the Styrofoam lid just 1/4 inch and leave for 15 minutes
    e. Turn Styrofoam lid at right angles to the Styro container and leave for 15 minutes
    f. Remove lid from top of Styrofoam container and leave for 15 minutes
    g. If there is internal paper or covering over the fish bag(s), remove it just like the lid of the Styrofoam container (starting with d.)
    h. If bagged fish are inside of any other bag, remove fish bag from ‘over-pack’ bag(s)

    2. Fish bag in hand
    a. Darken room (meaning, only muted natural daylight is allowed).
    b. Take fish bag out of any ‘over-pack’ bag or container the fish was in (if fish was in a closed, light restricted or light-tight box, follow 1. above procedure.


    1. Rinse off exterior of the unopened fish bag under room temperature tap water
    2. Rinse off exterior of the unopened fish bag with RO/DI or distilled water
    3a. Float unopened bag in QT water for 15 minutes (if bag water temperature is close to QT temperature) OR
    3b. Float bag in QT water for 20+ minutes if bag and QT water temperatures vary by over 10F.
    4. After floating, open bag
    5. Fix bag so it won’t sink (clip to aquarium; hold down with a can of soup; roll down top to make a float ring (although most fish bags nowadays don’t provide enough ‘bag material’ below where the bag was cut to roll it down and still have enough bag volume leftover))
    6. However the bag is fixed to prevent sinking, the water in the bag must be open to the room air (don’t fold over or crimp the bag and prevent the bag water from being in contact with the room air)
    7. Begin the acclimation procedure


    1. Sophisticated Approach €“ Adjust QT chemistries
    a. Measure bag pH and salinity
    b. Adjust QT water chemistry to match bag salinity and pH (NOTE: if bag water has a significantly low pH like often found in bags where the fish was in for a long time, adjust the QT pH to no less than 7.8. If bag water is below pH 7.0 do not perform this process. The fish were in the bag much longer than anticipated and should follow the Long Haul process (not given here in this post).
    c. Proceed to 2

    2. Basic Approach
    a. Add QT water to open bag (measure the amount) according to either:
    - - - i. no more than 5% of the estimated volume of the original bag water volume, OR
    - - - ii. adjust addition volume down to 3% for more sensitive fishes
    b. Wait 5 minutes (use a timer) for sensitive fishes; OR 4 minutes (use a timer) for less sensitive fishes
    c. Repeat a. and b.
    d. Continue additions c.) until bag is nearly full
    e. If QT water parameters were not adjusted, go on to g.
    f. If QT water parameters were adjusted to bag parameters (1.b.), go on to DIP
    g. Empty bag to just about 2/3 of the original water volume that was in the bag
    h. Continue making additions of QT water to the bag as in c. until bag pH and salinity match that of the QT. If needed, repeat g. & h. doubling the volume of the additions
    i. When the bag is nearly full for the second time, proceed to DIP
    j. After dip, turn off lighting of the QT until the next morning, only allowing natural room light.


    1. Proceed to performing a prophylactic freshwater dip on the fish according to: Fresh Water Fish Dip


    1. As soon as the fish is eating, de-worm the fish: De-Worming and Fishes with Intestinal Problems.
    2. If the fish is a tang of the Genus Acanthurus begin the copper treatment when the fish starts to eat or no more than 48 hours after acclimation. See this: Copper Medications - Good, Bad, and Ugly
    3. If the fish is one of the Anemonefishes, begin a Formalin treatment for Brooklynella (and other ciliated protozoan). See this: Formaldehyde: Friend or Foe - Treating Saltwater Fish Diseases
    4. Continue quarantine and observation for no less than 6 weeks. See:
    An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure: A Quarantine Tank for Everything by Steven Pro
    Also see: A Quarantine Procedure


    Light acclimation - is not only important at the time the fish arrives at the place it will live, but when coming out of a dark container, over-pack bag(s), etc. and after the fish is first introduced to the QT.

    Getting Styrofoam container out of the cardboard box - is a hassle. No need to further the ‘rock-‘n-roll’ effect on the fish. Use a box blade and cut the corners from the top to bottom, to expose the Styrofoam container on no less than three sides.

    No tape around Styrofoam lid-to-container connection - usually means the shipper doesn’t care or understand how to keep the contents of a Styrofoam container properly insulated. Heat/cold loss occurs at that seam where the lid fits onto the container. Tape (clear at least) should be multi-layered wrapped around the container, over that seam, to properly aid in the insulating ability of the package.

    Exterior bag rinse - removes debris, cardboard dust, Styrofoam bits, some microbes, etc. from the still-sealed/closed fish bag, before it floats in the QT water.

    Measuring bag pH and salinity - is usually best done by a portable or field hand-held pH meter and refractometer.

    Matching pH and salinity - as required in step 2.h. may not be totally attainable with a pH meter reading to two decimal points. The pH ‘match’ should be within 0.10 pH units. Even a pH meter not reading accurately, can still be used since the aquarist is looking for a match (not an actual number). Still it is recommended to use a recently calibrated pH meter, especially if an acclimation will be made with fish acquired from an on-line source, or having been bagged for 4 hours or longer. The salinity ‘match’ is okay to do by specific gravity. If using specific gravity, match should be within 0.002 sp. gr. units.

    If no pH measurements will be done - then IF the fish was in the bag more than 4 hours, it is best to fill the bag a third time, this time doubling the size of QT water additions. If pH and salinity measurements are not done and the fish was in the bag for 4 or less hours, stop the acclimation process after the bag has been filled a second time.

    Drip acclimation - may be best suited for invertebrates, but it is too slow and unnecessary (in my opinion) for fish acclimation. Anyone using a drip acclimation process nowadays for marine fish, doesn't understand how important it is to get the fish into good water (for fish in bags over 4 hours) or how important it is to get fish out of bad water (for fish imported that have been bagged for 30+ hours).

    Air stones - are never to be used. They alter the water chemistries too quickly by mixing air with the water too quickly. It may seem ‘efficient’ and of benefit, but the use of an air stone or bubbling air through the bag water or dip water is unnecessary and in some cases very harmful. One thing that bubbling water can do is alter the pH quickly.

    Water additions to the bag - are best done slowly. Don’t just dump the water into the bag. At the start, trickle it in along the bag side, to give a little mix to the water and to gently disturb the water surface. After the first bag full, it can be trickled in directly onto the bag water surface to mix some air in. If the bag water volume is initially high and the water additions are over ½ cup, split the additions leaving a few seconds between ½ cup additions.

    A quick estimate of the volume of the bag water - can be made by putting the unopened bag into a calibrated container (like large kitchen measuring container). The bag 'fills' in around the container and you can read an estimated volume from the measuring container.

    Species considerations - that is, adjusting the acclimation process to the fish species, is not always straightforward. Speaking in generalities, a fish sensitive to water chemistries in bad bag water needs to be properly adjusted, but quickly. A less sensitive fish to water quality, can be put through the process faster with less rigorous considerations to pH and salinity. If the fish being acclimated is listed as a ‘hardy’ species or ‘easy maintenance’ it can be assumed the fish is more tolerable to shifts in water quality. These fish can move through the acclimation process faster than those fishes that are listed as ‘difficult’ or ‘only for the advanced aquarist.’ Those fishes listed as being of medium hardiness and/or maintenance, should be put through at a medium to slow pace with careful attention and use of pH meters. The difficult species need a slow and closely monitored and perfectly accurate acclimation process, even if it means they are further stressed by an extended stay in the bag. As mentioned in the INTRO, acclimation is a trade-off between time and optimal (minimal) water quality adjustment.

    The LONG HAUL PROCESS. Fishes obtained from overseas that have been bagged or boxed for 30+ hours are in really bad water after that time. Fish obtained online in bagged water showing an initial pH of 7.0 or below are also in very bad water. There are special ways of handling the acclimation of fishes in such bad water, which are not given here. If the aquarist is interested, I have a procedure to follow for acclimating those fishes and all you need do is post your interest to this thread.


    The aquarist probably doesn’t want to void the supplier’s livestock guarantee. If the supplier's recommended acclimation process nearly matches the above recommendation, the process could be tweaked to match this recommended process. Also, you might find some of the techniques mentioned in this post can be used without voiding the supplier’s guarantee.

    I find some supplier acclimation requirements to be inappropriate. For instance, a Goby is obtained from an on-lines source and the supplier’s ‘standard’ acclimation process is to add ½ cup of QT water to the bag until it is full. Well, in the case of the Goby, there is sometimes less than a pint of water in the bag to start with! That half-cup addition is a much too severe swing in water chemistries. It doesn’t make sense. Even a quarter-cup addition to such a small bag volume is inappropriate for a smooth acclimation of the fish to the new water chemistries. Conversely, a large fish comes in from an on-line shipment and the fish is in a gallon of water. The supplier’s acclimation ‘standard’ process is to add 1/4 of QT water at a time. That’s way too little. The water addition is adjusted to bag’s original estimated water volume AND the type of fish being acclimated.



    If the aquarist can obtain the water chemistry of where the fish lived in most recently and had acclimated to (or if directly form overseas €“ the water chemistries of its home sea/ocean), then the acclimation process can be shortened to:

    A. Adjust QT water to the exact water pH and salinity the fish came from.
    B. Follow all of STARTING (1. and 2.) above;
    C. Follow FLOATING 1. to 4.
    D. While fish is still in bag, drain water from bag to barely keep the fish covered.
    E. Proceed to DIP
    F. After dip, turn off lighting of the QT until the next morning, only allowing natural room light.
    The fish is in your QT!



    After the quarantine process and the fish checks out okay, then it is time to move the fish from its QT to its new home in the display. This should be a relatively easy acclimation. The QT water can be altered to match that of the display water. Over a period of time, the pH should be adjusted to match that of the display water pH (make no more than 0.05 pH units change (up or down) per day until the QT pH matches the display tank pH). Match the salinity and get temperature close.

    Plan to move the fish at the normal time that the lights go out on the display tank. This process should be done on a dark tank or one with only moon lights on. A little room light is okay.

    The fish is bagged and floated in an open bag for 10 minutes if temperature was not a complete match. Add 10% by volume of the bag water to the bagged fish water until bag is full, every 4 minutes. Dump half the bag out to the drain. Continue adding that same 10% by volume to the bagged fish water until bag is full. Dump half the bag out to the drain and then left fish swim out into the display tank. This should take less than 70 minutes.

    Last edited by leebca; 05-30-2009 at 12:30 PM.

  2. #2
    michealprater's Avatar
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    Only think I see that you missed is, when you buy online and the fish has been shipped, there is a high concentration of ammonia in the bag. Once you start the acclimation, as the PH slowly rises the ammonia becomes more and more toxic to the fish. The best way to circumvent this issue is to use a product such as Prime or Amquel to bind the ammonia. It is alway the first thing I do once the bag has been opened. Binding the ammonia renders it nontoxic and at that point you are already reducing the fishes stress level.

  3. #3
    Brittle Starfish

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    That is certainly a very good way of handling such situations. But be sure first that the pH is really that low (below 7.0). If it is, then I would follow the Long Haul procedure (which I didn't post) that includes the use of such products.

  4. #4
    cpd7767's Avatar
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    is the drip line the best way?

  5. #5
    Brittle Starfish

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    Rather than posting all over the place for the sake of posting, you should actually read the first post!

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