Bay pipefish, aka the slender-nosed pipefish, inhabit coastal wetlands, swaying to and fro in the gentle current while utilizing a near-vertical swimming posture; they mimic the movement of eel grass Zostera spp
blades, which they themselves resemble. Cousins of seahorses, these syngnathids possess very seahorse-like characteristics but with the elongated body of an eel, although they are not very eel-like in the way they maneuver (swim) by using tiny fins to propel themselves and their heads to steer.
Physical description: Like all pipefishes, S. leptorhynchus has several noticeable seahorselike features, including a long snout, with a fused jaw and small terminal mouth; it uses this apparatus to slurp up prey as one would pull soda from a can through a straw. They also lack scales like their seahorse cousins and are girded with bony ringlets. The combination of their uniform olive-green (or another earth tone) coloration, elongated form (up to a foot long), vertical swim posture and tiny fins make them hard to tell apart from the eel grass blades they spend much of their time among. They have no pelvic fins.
A sexually dimorphic species, the male bay pipefish has a special brood pouch situated beneath its tail in which the female deposits fertilized eggs; the male will hold the young until fully formed pipefishes emerge at their appointed hour. The swimming juveniles are just 19 millimeters long when they emerge. Reports suggest large male pipefish can be pregnant with more than 900 young at a time. Continuing along the sexual dimorphism vein, females have an anal fin while males lack one. Females are also larger than their male counterparts.
Range: Bay pipefish are coolwater species that are found in estuarial bays and sloughs, where eel grass abounds, up and down the west coast of North America, from the Alaska Panhandle to Baja California Sur.
Availability: Hobbyists wishing to keep bay pipefish might need to go the personal collection route, as those bay pipefish currently being kept are more often than not collected by the hobbyists themselves. Wherever you end up trolling for them, be sure to check local and state fish collecting laws first. Be sure the areas you are pipefish searching in are not protected reserves, national parks, national seashores, etc., where the collecting of any marine animals is strictly verboten.
Make sure that you have the right collection tools and containers; with the right nets and containers you can avoid injuring the fish and ensure they get back to their new aquarium with minimal stress. Your bay pipefish display should already be set-up and ready to go.
Aquarium conditions: Like seahorses, bay pipefish are better suited to captive life in small dedicated tanks (nanos of 30 gallons or less) planted in eel grass, other sea grasses, macroalgae or artificial plants. Smaller tank sizes allow them easy access to the nutrient-soaked Artemia, live and frozen krill, Mysis and brine shrimp that you'll be feeding them. Live foods are best, as movement helps to initiate a feeding response. They should be fed a couple times daily and frozen-thawed foods must be kept moving for the animals to retain interest. This can be done by letting it rain down from above, as well as incorporating live foods in the feeding mix.
Because bay pipefish are slow, methodical swimmers they will lose out in the food race to just about every other piscine tankmate - another reason for a dedicated tank all their own.
While the northern population is from decidedly cooler temperate waters, the southern population of bay pipefish is found in warmer water, which heats up during the summer months. Keeping them in water in the low 70s (degrees Fahrenheit) is adequate. You may be able to get away with not having a chiller, but you would still need some decent fans to cool and keep the water surface temperature down. A nutrient-rich mud substrate covered in sand or small pebbles is preferable, especially if keeping live plants.
Threats: Pipefish are collected for the Chinese medicinal trade, dried and pulverized; this powder is thought to possess medicinal properties by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. The other major threat to these diminutive creatures is the loss of eel grass habitat due to overdevelopment, especially in areas like Southern California. High-density coastal development also contributes fouled runoff and other pollutants that have a devastating impact on estuarial areas where bay pipefish frequent. The aquarium trade's effect is negligible.