Packing and Shipping Cephalopods

Best practices in cephalopod transport

By Richard Ross (Thales)

Several people have recently asked how I ship cephs, so I thought I would write up what I do and stick it on the blog for posterity. I am hoping to ship some cephs in the next few weeks and if I do, I will try to update this post with photos.

Mostly I ship eggs and hatchling Sepia bandensis, but have used the procedure for juveniles, adults as well as octopus of various sizes – everything is just scaled up. Basically, you stick the ceph in a plastic bag with water and oxygen and seal it with a rubber band. Then you stick the plastic bag in an insulated shipping box and over night it to the person you are shipping the animals to. Details below. Remember describing simple things seems to make them seem more complicated than the really are, so don’t get overwhelmed by the detail!

Supplies

You are also going to need heat packs if the weather is cold or ice packs if the weather is really hot (jump online and check the weather at the departure city and the arrival city before you ship). Use 40 hour heat packs because of the insurance they give you in case the shipment is delayed a day. I like the uni heat available here, or maybe from your LFS. Any kind of ice pack will do.

Figure out how many plastic bags you are going to be shipping and of what size. This will determine what size shipping container you are going to need. I have put up to 4 hatchlings in a single 6 inch bag but this often is dependent on the size of the shipping container – if you have a larger container, you need to fill space with more bags, but if you have a smaller container you need to maximize the space you have.

Plastic bags and rubberbands to seal the bags are most easily obtained from a friendly LFS. Get enough to triple layer each bag of water to better ensure the any small leak from a ceph bite or other abrasion is not catastrophic. For hatchlings and eggs I use either small ‘frag’ bags or smal 6 inch fish bags, and if you can get the thicker bags over the thinner, the probability of leaks goes even further down.

You’ll needs some kind of insulated shipping container the size you are going to need. These usually consist of a styrofoam ‘inner’ box and a cardboard ‘outer’ box. You can usually get one from your LFS, though getting the size you want may be difficult, especially if you are shipping only one or two small hatchlings. Some people have used small ice chests with fine results, or made their own by cutting down styrofoam to fit in a smaller cardboard box.

I also put a small piece of macro algae in with the animals so they have something to hold onto during shipping.

Packing tape

The address and phone number of who the animals are being shipped to (its never fun to fill out shipping paperwork only to find you don’t have all the information you need.

Determine when is the latest you can drop off the package at the shipping company, and try to pack and drop off the animals as close to that time as possible. The less time the animals spend in shipping the better. Also make sure you spring for morning deliver if possible, again, the less time in shipping the better.

Oxygen – I think its important, but some have shipped without it. I always use it. Your friendly LFS comes in handy here, and they will often let you use their oxygen if you have a good relationship with them. I always offer to pay them for any supplies they help me with, but have never actually been charged.

Packing

Fill the first bag with about 40% of tank water. Then add the macro algae if available, and then the ceph(s). Add oxygen to the bag, but don’t overfill because you want the bag to have a little bit of play to expand during time on the airplane with lower atmospheric pressure (most commercial planes are pressurized to 8000 feet). Twist the bag closed making a ‘stem’ that can be folded over itself for an even better seal. Seal the bag with a rubberband or two, making sure that the rubber band has been wrapped many times around the bag making a really tight seal. There is an art to rubber banding these bags, as well as several methods, so if you haven’t ever done it before practice and/or get someone experienced to help. Some LFS may even have a banding machine which crimps a small piece of metal around the ‘stem’ of the bag for an excellant seal.

Place the rubber banded side of the bag in the bottom of the next bag and then rubber band the second bag. This will eliminate any corners a small ceph may get trapped in. While flipping the bag, cuttlefish may ‘hang on’ to the plastic of the bag being exposed to air. No worries, be patient and wait for the animal to let go before proceeding. Seal the second bag with a rubber band. Repeat this step one last time for triple bagged goodness.

Place the animal packed bags into the shipping container and fill any extra space with packing peanuts, more rubber banded bags or any other soft material. The goal is to keep the bag from moving around during transport. Leave space above the bags for heat packs or ice packs.

If using an ice pack place it in a plastic bag and put some newspaper between it and the bags containing animals – direct contact can cause localized temperature changes. If using a heat pack, open the package it came in and shake the heat pack to activate it. Wrap it in newspaper and tap it to the top of the inside of the lid of the styrofoam ‘inner’ box. Heat packs stop working if they get wet, but they need oxygen to work, so don’t put them inside plastic bags.

Put the lid on the styrofoam ‘inner’ and seal lightly with tape. Then put the styrofoam box into the cardboard outer and seal that with packing tape.

Take the packed box to the shipping company, fill out the paperwork, give them money for shipping and have a nice dinner. Keep the tracking number handy so you can obsess over where the package is all night long.

Odds and ends

-- Ship to arrive the next business morning.

-- Never ship on a Thursday or Friday. Saturday deliveries are notorious for going wrong and if they do, the animals will sit until monday, which is too long. If you ship on a Thursday for Friday delivery and something goes wrong, you can end up with the aforementioned Saturday problems.

-- May shippers will deliver to one of their strip mall stores and hold the package for pickup. The advantage here is that no one needs to be home to sign for the package. FedEx uses Kinko’s and UPS has their own stores.

Let me know if there are any questions or if something is unclear and I’ll update the post as needed. I hope this is helpful.
Published:
Nov 27, 2016
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