The mighty seahorse, Genus Hippocampus named after a little fish with a horse head and a caterpillar body. This much loved little creature is a favorite of muck divers worldwide.
It is a well recognized and revered marine fish with a whole lot of personality. Steeped in Greek mythology, seahorses are mentioned in Homer’s Iliad pulling Poseidon’s chariot.
In more modern times, you may have seen seahorses splashing around with Triton, the Greek God of the sea in Rome’s famous Trevi fountain.
Since we love all things weird around here at Crystal Dive, writing a blog on these endangered creatures with monkey tails, chameleon eyes, kangaroo pouches and horse-like heads was a no brainer. Here are our most interesting facts about Seahorses.
1. Seahorses are found all over the world
Seahorses are found all over the world, not just the tropics. They can be found in colder waters around New Zealand, the UK and Eastern Canada.
They can live in a variety of habitat’s from coral reefs to mud flats to sea grass patches, where they hang onto blades with their prehensile tails to keep from being taken by the ocean’s currents.
2. Seahorses are Territorial
Seahorses are territorial and are very slow swimmers, in fact they can only swim about 5 feet per hour. Since they are not going to be able to out-swim their main predator, crabs, they need a different defense and boy have they mastered it.
3. Seahorses use Camouflage
Seahorses use camouflage and can change colour and grow little lumps and bumps to match their surroundings! Some species also have little spines on the top of their head, called a coronet, which is another word for crown. This helps them become camouflage ninjas!
4. Seahorses are Monogamous
Seahorses are also famous for their monogamous relationships and male pregnancies. In fact, members of the Syngnathidae family, are the only marine species to have true male pregnancies.
In the breeding season, the mates come together each morning and perform elaborate mating dances.
These dances can often last for hours and can include, circling each other, singing to each other (sounds like lip smacking), colour changes and entwining their tails.
Babies are born fully formed, about the size of a jellybean after about 45 days and are completely independent of their parents.
5. Seahorses Require little Food to Eat
Such little creatures require little food to eat. Seahorses mainly eat little shrimp, fish, plankton and fish larvae. Seahorses have no stomach or teeth, so they eat by sucking their food up through their snout. It would be a similar action if we used a straw to eat every meal.
6. Seahorses Vary Widely in Size
Seahorses vary widely in size, they can be as small as a pumpkin seed or as large as a banana. The smallest seahorse is Indonesia’s Satomi’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus satomiae) with an average length of 13.8 mm.
The largest species is Australia’s Big Bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis) that can grow up to 35 cm long. Researchers are undecided on their lifespan in the wild, anywhere from to one to five years.
7. Seahorses are an Endangered Species (CITES Appendix II)
In theory, seahorses are protected animals. CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) has had all species of seahorses listed under Appendix II since 2002. CITES is an international treaty between governments to protect the trade of endangered species and plants. These endangered species are classified under three appendixes (I, II, III);
Appendix I lists species that are the most endangered, often threatened with extinction and CITES prohibit trade in the species or parts of these species except in exceptional cases. Some examples of Appendix I species would be tigers (Panthera tigris) and mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei).
Appendix II lists species that are not necessarily threatened with extinction but unless their trade is monitored more closely could be at risk of extinction in the future.
Appendix II examples include whale sharks (Rhincodon Typhus) and Oceanic Mantas (Manta birostris).
Appendix III is usually requested by a Country to help regulate trade or illegal exploitation of certain species.
With an Appendix II listing, seahorses can only be exported if they have been sustainably and legally caught and is shipped with the appropriate paperwork.
Some countries including Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia went further and imposed a blanket ban on the export of seahorses.
8. Seahorses are Traded on the Black Market
This only served to create a thriving, well organized black market in the trade of seahorses.
An estimated 5.8 million seahorses are exported each year from Thailand, making the country a world leader in seahorse exports (Thaiger.com, July 30, 2014).
Thailand remains the largest exporter of seahorses to Hong Kong’s Chinese medicine shops.
Dried seahorses are easy to smuggle, sometimes mixed in with other large seafood exports. Dr. Sarah Foster, with Project Seahorse, estimates that about 37 million seahorses are caught in the wild every year.
Despite regulations designed to protect them, smuggling is rampant. Traditional Chinese medicine believes that seahorses have Viagra-like properties, despite no human scientific data of proof to its efficacy.
It’s also thought to not only improve virility but also to support kidney disease, anti-aging, anti-tumour and anti-fatigue despite zero proof in human populations that confirm these results.
9. Seahorse Populations have Dropped by up to 50%
According to Project Seahorse, research carried out around the world shows that populations of at least 11 species have dropped by between 30% and 50% over the past 15 years.
The fishing industry is a major problem to seahorse populations. According to Project Seahorse, trawlers drag an area of seabed twice the size of the continental United States, every year.
Trawl nets, are large nets that are weighted and dragged along the bottom of the seafloor, catching and destroying everything in their wake, including seahorses.
Habitat degradation threatens species as they inhabit shallow areas that are easily influenced by human activities.
10. Seahorses are Non Migratory
They are also vulnerable because they are non-migratory, meaning that if their habitat is destroyed they cannot move.
How can we ensure this little fish survives?
They will compile this invaluable data to go towards legislation and education to protect our mighty marine steeds.
Their website is filled with valuable information on seahorses, ID guides and how to report seahorses to them.
You could take the Peak Performance Buoyancy Specialty at Crystal Dive to ensure that you don’t kick up silt which will make locating these charismatic little horse caterpillar’s harder to find.
Remember when you are interacting with a seahorse there is no touching, no chasing and no flash photography. All those things could seriously stress out our little friends.
Talk to people about seahorses and their plight for survival. Support the creation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with no trawling near the coast, which will protect a lot of marine creatures. Only about 4 % of the world’s oceans are protected by MPAs.
Consider giving up wild caught shrimp in favour of farmed shrimp. Shrimp fishing is almost always guilty of using trawlers.
You can join one of our seahorse surveys here at Crystal Dive and contribute to monthly data collection dives or snorkels, listen in on one of our seahorse talks or browse through the ID guides to test your species knowledge.
If you see a dried seahorse for sale, take a picture of it and upload it and the location you saw it and hopefully we can start getting more data to help protect seahorses.
Hopefully you’ve learned a little about seahorses today and the problems they face. If you are in the neighbourhood come by for a chat, or better yet join us on our new seahorse survey dives.
PADI MSDT #365653
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