Horses of the Sea

Seahorses display interesting biological characteristics. They exhibit a somewhat S-like shaped body that ranges from an inch to a foot (Danielson, 2002). Attached to this body is a fully prehensile tail used to attach to underwater vegetation, and a head with a long snout, and eyes

The male seahorse becomes pregnant for 10-25 days before hatching occurs
that swivel independently of each other. No wonder it’s so hard to believe that seahorses are actually fish! Seahorses are bony fishes belonging to the family Syngnathidae and genus hippocampus, which consists of 32 species (Dando and Burchett, 1996). Species can be identified by the series of protective bony plates that are underneath a thin layer of skin, but are visible as rings around the organism’s trunk. Male and female seahorses can be told apart by the presence of a brood pouch on the male.

The mode of reproduction within seahorses is unusual among the bony fishes. Most species are monogamous, and the process of mating begins when the “couple” conducts their daily pre-dawn dances. This consists of an entanglement of tails and swimming together for minutes at a time. Eventually they engage in a true courtship dance, which can last for as many as eight hours. It ends with the female depositing as many as 2,000 eggs in the male’s brood pouch. So, essentially the male seahorse becomes pregnant for 10-25 days before hatching occurs (Danielson, 2002). The parents do not provide

their offspring with any care or protection after birth. Despite their unique adaptations, the survival of seahorses is challenged not only by predators and ocean currents that sweep them out to sea, but also by human activities. Experts say over fishing and habitat degradation from the dredging of sea grass beds, cutting of mangroves, polluted estuaries, and damaged coral reefs are causing seahorse populations to decline worldwide (Danielson, 2002). Many seahorses are caught for home aquariums or dried to make souvenirs. The biggest use, however, is traditional medicine. Seahorses are valued in some cultures for aphrodisiac properties and as cures for respiratory ailments, incontinence, heart disease, and other illnesses. Efforts to protect seahorses such as establishing no-take zones and alternatives to fishing are being made by a team of international biologists called Project Seahorse.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun

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