Canister filter review


Photo of two canister filters in the Sicce Whale line – model 120 (left) and 500 (right). Courtesy of Sicce USA.

As I was planning out the set-up of the new 55g tank, one of the first items I thought about was filtration. While there are numerous ways to effectively filter a 55g, I knew I was going to use a canister or two. I have used sumps, HOBs, internal and external canisters, but for this tank I wanted to use a large external canister.

Quite serendipitously, I was offered a Sicce Whale 500 canister filter by the Aquarium in exchange for a review of it. Manufactured in Italy, the Sicce Whale line of canister filters comes in four models – 120, 200, 350, and 500. The 500 has a maximum flow rating of 390 gph and a recommended tank capacity of 80-135 gallons, which is more than enough for the 55g I’m setting up. You can see my review of the Whale 500 here.

I must say that this filter does a really nice job. In the past, the Whale canisters had problems with leaks around the pump head seal (where the pump head connects to the canister body) due to users incorrectly aligning the media trays or overpacking them. However, Sicce quickly responded to this problem and resolved it by redesigning the trays and the underside of the pump head. Ribs were added to both the trays and the bottom of the pump head assembly to prevent incorrect alignment. See the video showing the improvements. The filter does supply a significant output flow. Also, it is really quiet.

Update 5/16/18: Sicce has changed the model names of the Whale line. There are still four models, but they are now just simply numbered (in order of size) beginning with 1 (e.g., Whale 1, Whale 2).

Make that new tank ready to go from day one

The easiest, most effective way (biologically speaking) to quickly make a new tank ready for fish,  is to use pre-seeded bio-media. There are bacteria-laden products available to emulate seeded media, but they aren’t the same as seeding your own. For quick results, remove some of the mature media from your existing filter and place it in a media bag along with some new media. If you have a tank with an overflow box or you use a sump, consider placing this media bag full of your favorite bio-media in it to hasten the media’s growth. There are three advantages for utilizing this type of placement of your bag: 1) it’s easier to access than putting it inside a filter, 2) it’s hidden from view, and 3) in theory, the bacteria in the bag will benefit more quickly from the continuous, natural flow of the water. In a very short time, you’ll be able to remove the media from the bag (or leave it in the bag) and place it in the filter(s) of your new tank.

Yes, you could take some mature media from a running filter, add it straight to the new filter without adding any new media, and then add fish immediately. However, depending on the number and size of the fish you add, the little bit of mature media that you robbed from the existing filter may not be enough to support the bio load generated by the new fish. You could easily overwhelm the media’s ability to consume the ammonia and nitrite produced.

Below is an 8″ x 12″ media bag full of floating plastic bio-media. It’s inside the corner overflow of a 75g tank. The floating media keeps the bag above the intake pipe. You’ll notice the intake pipe utilizes a prefilter sponge. In this case, I could also use sinking media in the bag, if I chose, because the prefilter sponge would prevent the bag from being sucked into the intake tube opening, which would slow or even halt the water intake.


Large media bag containing plastic bio-media floating inside corner overflow of 75g tank. Photo courtesy of the author.

Update to New Fish Arrived post!

I said I would update the New Fish Arrived post from 1/13/16 with photos once I had time to take a few. Below are two of the better ones. One of the Electric Yellows is the top photo and the next photo is one of the Cherry Red Zebras. The Zebra appears more orange than red in the photo, which I would say it is. However, part of that is due to the LED lights I’m using on the aquarium. The three Zebras were a little larger (~1/4″) than the Labs when they arrived. The Zebras are more full-bodied too.

The Labs and the Zebras are easy to distinguish inside the tank from a distance, even though they appear similarly colored in these photos. I’ll get a photo of one of the demasonis soon. I couldn’t get any of them to cooperate during this first photo shoot.


Labidochromis caeruleus “Electric Yellow”. Photo courtesy of the author.


Metriaclima estherae “Cherry Red Zebra”. Photo courtesy of the author.

Annual ACA convention

In less than 6 months, the American Cichlid Association will have its annual convention. Hosted by the Greater Cincinnati Aquarium Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, this year’s version will be at the Marriott Cincinnati RiverCenter July 7-10.

I would encourage any and all cichlidophiles to register and attend. It’s a truly awesome experience on multiple fronts. You will get to hear world renowned cichlid experts speak, you will get to engage with hundreds of fellow aquarists, you will see some absolutely amazing cichlids, and you’ll have opportunities to purchase fish right at the hotel. If you’ve never been, many attendees will have tanks set up right in their hotel room specifically to sell fish. It is a sight to see! In addition, there will be many vendors in attendance displaying and selling some of the latest and greatest aquarium supplies (filters, filter media, driftwood, lights, fish food, etc.).

Visit the convention website for more information. I plan to be there, so stop and introduce yourself if you see me.

Even the experienced make fatal mistakes

Fish keeping is not an exact science, and sometimes you lose fish for no apparent reason. On the other hand, many of the decisions you make can have catastrophic consequences. Sadly, a poor decision on my part during the repositioning of rock work in my 75g resulted in just that, a catastrophe. This is a Tanganyikan tank containing river rock, clay pots, ceramic caves, and various snail shells. Yesterday, during routine maintenance, I decided to add some holey rock that I picked up from my LFS. I removed about 75% of the objects and vacuumed the sand substrate. Among the objects removed was several snail shells. I looked into each shell and emptied them of water individually, at which point I proceeded with the rescaping. I intentionally left about four shells out of the tank.

Fast forward more than 24 hours and, as I’m feeding the tank, I did a head count. The only fish missing was a single Telmatochromis vittatus. The tank housed two of them, and one was out and about as usual. I sat and watched, thinking the other one would make an appearance shortly. It didn’t. After about 15 minutes, I began looking around the tank. Experience has shown me that dead fish will rarely be stuck inside rock work. They usually float out or will be on the tank periphery somewhere. Not seeing the missing vittatus and knowing that, if it was not dead or sick, it would be feeding with the others, I realized I had a problem. Then it hit me! I looked over at the four shells that I had removed the day before and thought to myself, “surely not.” I picked up each one and, sadly, there it was, curled up just inside the 2nd shell I picked up.

I truly care about my fish, and losing one is hard enough under any circumstance. When it’s my fault, I get a real hollow feeling in my stomach. I should have put all four shells back into the tank and then, if I didn’t want to keep them in, I should have removed them again once everyone was accounted for. I made a grave mistake, and a fish paid for it. I’m not afraid to say it. It hurts!

New fish arrived!

PicturePhoto courtesy of the author.

The cichlids for the 55g arrived today. I ordered them from Alan Bliven of Cichlid Lovers in Arizona and had them shipped same day. The shipment included P. demasoni, L. caeruleus, and M. estherae. Also in the shipment were some J. marlieri, but they’re for another tank.

I went with some Lake Malawi Mbuna cichlids for a few reasons. One, I wanted some really nice color varieties for this tank. Two, I already have a Tanganyikan tank and thought it would be good to mix things up. Three, I haven’t kept three Mbuna species together in the past, so there was the intrigue aspect of it. Finally, availability and price were factors.

They’re all juveniles, so they’re quite small (~1-2″). After acclimating for a bit, all of them were released into the tank at the same time and they all look great, eagerly swimming around upon entry. Also, their colors are very vibrant, even without the tank lights on.

​As I expected, the “Electric Yellows” (caeruleus) are the more timid of the three species. The “Cherry Red Zebras” (estherae) are much more gregarious, more so than the demasonis. There is plenty of rock work from end-to-end in the tank, as there should be for mbuna, so the Yellows should settle in pretty well and get more active soon.

I’ll take some photos and update this blog entry soon.

The quest for new bio media

As a DIYer cichlidophile, I’m always on the lookout for aquarium resources beyond the typical pet store and LFS fare. Because I like to tinker with new methods of filtration, I keep my eyes open for new and different bio media.
While looking for some small, floating plastic bio media for a small fluid bed filter that I’m working on, I came across a company in East Tennessee called Smoky Mountain Bio Media. They do business primarily with  industrial customers, however they offer media on a much smaller scale for the aquarium hobby. I ordered a gallon of their BioFLO 9 white floater media, which was promptly delivered. Two pieces of the BioFLO 9 are pictured below (far left) with some other bio media for size comparison. I’ll write an update once I get the filter up and running.


Photo courtesy of the author.


Photo courtesy of the author.

A new 55g


New 55g Malawi tank. Photo courtesy of the author.

Over the Christmas holidays, I got the new 55g set up. As I’ve mentioned, it’s going to house some dwarf species that have yet to be purchased. I used about 40 pounds of sand. I opted for sand because 1) it’s more natural for the fish I’m considering, 2) I think it looks better than gravel, crushed coral, etc., and 3) it’s easier for the fish to displace if they won’t to do some rearranging. I chose white, simply because it’s easier to spot detritus in light colored sand and it also provides better contrast for fish of color.

Before I put the sand in, I added a cut sheet of light diffuser (egg crate most cichlidophiles call it) that spans the entire tank floor. This adds a bit of protection to the glass if too much sand gets displaced under stacked rocks, causing them to topple.

I’m generally not a huge fan of artificial plants, but I wanted some additional cover without stacking rock really high. Also, plants add some nice color highlights and can look quite good if not overdone. I have kept live plants in the past, but I personally find them more hassle than they’re worth.

I’m using a 300W Fluval E digital heater to keep the tank temperature steady. It’s a bit overkill for the size of the tank, but the tank resides on an outside wall that, while well insulated, can still get a little cooler when outside temperatures reach the 20s. I’ve used other heater brands (Hydor, Eheim Jager, etc) but find the digital Fluvals to be the most accurate and dependable. I believe the Jager’s ruled the day years ago, but the quality has declined.

Filtration is currently handled by a single Sicce Whale 500, loaded with several different types of media – course/dense sponges, Eheim SUBSTRATpro, and plastic, cylinder shaped bio-rings. Some of the sponge and most of the plastic bio-rings were pre-seeded from another tank. Just prior to the arrival of the new cichlids, I’ll add some chemical media in the form of poly filter, Chemi-Pure, Purigen, or some combination of the three, which will also add some water polishing capability.

At present, the tank’s occupants are five small black skirt tetras and three giant danios. I normally wouldn’t put SA/CA tetras in an African tank. However, I’ve had good luck with black skirts in my water (in fact, I have six in a 75g that I bought as juveniles and are now almost three years old).

I’ll post an update once the new cichlids arrive. What am I getting, you ask? I honestly don’t know. I’m thinking of a few different directions – a mix of small Victorians, a mix of dwarf Tanganyikans, a mix of small Malawi Mbuna, or a Tanganyikan species only.


Happy belated New Year!


Image from

I meant to post this entry on January 1st, at least that was my plan. However, I clearly didn’t. No bother, though. It is still very early in the year.

I wanted to take just a second to thank all of those who follow the blog and let you know that there are lots of new and exciting things happening this year. I’m planning lots more interviews, so stay tuned. There will be interviews with fellow cichlidophiles that many of you will know and probably some interviews introducing you to some folks you might not know much about. There might even be a few surprises along the way.

I’ve never had a goal of X number of followers and, to be quite honest, I really don’t know how many of you there are. My main goal is to simply share what knowledge I have of this wonderful hobby and hopefully provide some useful information in the process. 2016 promises to be a great year, and I’m excited to continue sharing my cichlid stage with you.

Happy New Year!!!

A good leak indicator

As I set up the new 55g tank, I thought it might be worth mentioning one of the potential hazards of filters – a leak. If you keep fish long enough, you will inevitably have a filter leak of some kind, regardless of the brand and regardless of the filter type. Large leaks are easy to spot and are rather infrequent. Small leaks on HOB filters are often discovered by a drip from the power cord at the base of the loop, if you have a drip loop. And because HOBs aren’t very large filters, it usually doesn’t take much effort to identify the location of the leak. It’s usually occurs in one of two places: the seal where the pump housing connects to the filter body or a crack in the plastic filter body itself.

In canisters, a large leak on the input end will typically allow too much air into the system, slowing or stopping the flow of water. It’s the small to really small leaks that typically go unnoticed for a while. However, small leaks in canisters can come from several different connection points. One easy way to quickly spot a small leak, especially one that originates from the hose connections at the canister tap or the pump head seal, is to place a piece of newspaper under the canister. Newspaper will turn dark with just a little moisture, making it a great indicator of water. Newspaper is even better when used in black or really dark wood cabinets where non-pooling water is difficult to see. This works well for sumps also, but sumps can be pretty large and difficult to get newspaper under without some help.


Photo courtesy of the author.