Sunday, March 22, 2009
One of the most fulfilling parts of an Aquarist’s work is raising baby fish and invertebrates to adulthood. Here at the Aquarium of the Pacific, we have successfully bred and raised many different species of animals.
As you may know, the Aquarium of the Pacific was the first in the world to breed and raise weedy seadragons, sharing some of the offspring with other public aquariums to help protect this species.
Our aquarists have also been culturing and raising west coast sea nettles for several years – a process which takes many months, as the sea jellies go through many different stages of life which all have very different needs. Some of these sea jellies are shared with other aquariums as well. By sharing offspring with other aquariums, we reduce our impact on natural populations and still give you the opportunity to see these amazing animals up close.
I have the privilege of working in the Southern California/Baja Gallery. Recently another public aquarium gave us a small herd of Pacific Seahorses (before you start laughing, a group of seahorses really is called a herd!). We are raising the little guys and gals now and hope to someday have them on display. In the meantime, I thought I’d share a little about the Pacific Seahorse with you to tide you over (pun intended).
The scientific or proper name of the Pacific Seahorse is Hippocampus ingens. This is the only seahorse on the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean and it’s possible to find them here in Southern California! Their range goes as far south as Peru, but several have been collected as far north as San Diego Bay.
Baby Pacific seahorses are pelagic, which means after birth they float around in the ocean currents along with the fields of plankton, which they eat voraciously. Before that, the father carries the babies in his brood pouch (around his stomach area) for up to 6 weeks. Pacific seahorse dads carry quite a few babies, an average of around 200 each pregnancy! Once they are released from the father’s brood pouch, the parents are done parenting. We should all be so lucky to have a parenting job that easy, eh? Just kidding!
Once the young get a little older and develop stronger muscles, they stop traveling with the ocean currents. They’ll settle down amongst the corals and sea grasses along the sea floor. There they can grow to be as much as 19-20 cm or 8 inches tall. That makes them one of the largest seahorses in the world, and they’re right here in Southern California!
So, if you are wandering the shores around San Diego and happen to come across a seahorse, here’s what you’re looking for to determine if it’s a Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens). First of all, if it’s here, it’s a 99% chance it’s a Pacific seahorse cause again, that’s the only seahorse naturally found on the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean!
However, here’s some more info, so you can have an idea of what you’re looking for. The Pacific seahorse comes in a variety of colors ranging from yellows, oranges, and pinks, to browns and blacks. They will more than likely be living amongst coral or sea grasses that are a similar color. This keeps them safer from predators. They’ll likely range between 5 and 7 inches tall (13-19 cm).
One last note, if you do see a Pacific seahorse meandering around out there, take a picture if you have an underwater camera! Either way, try and remember approximately where it is you found it and report it to Project Seahorse. You can find this non-profit group online, they are attempting to catalog and document the lives and locations of seahorses worldwide. Their research could help understand and protect seahorses for future generations.
It’s very exciting to know that such exotic looking creatures live so close to us. Hopefully, some of you get the opportunity to see them in their natural environment!
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