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The Pacific Seahorse

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Animal Updates | Fish

Sunday, March 22, 2009

RetiredChris

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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jamescnz

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 03:56 PM

Hi there, very interesting! When Raising these little fellas what type of fish tanks do you keep them in?

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's avatar

Wednesday, April 22, 2009 06:04 PM

Hi James,

Seahorse young are pelagic - which means they float around with the ocean currents after being released from the father’s brood pouch.  To match that environment, we utilize kreisel systems - the same kind of system used for sea jellies.

If you look in the above picture, you can see the blue curve on the bottom left and right sides of the aquarium.  Essentially, that curve allows the water to continue circulating without any “dead zones” that lack water movement.

Eventually, the young get older and spend more of their time along the bottom of the aquarium and begin grasping sea grass and other ornaments with their tails.  When they do this we move them into a standard rectangle-style aquarium. 

Thanks for reading!

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Lewis

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 02:53 PM

Can you buy these seahorses anywhere? Do you recommend it? Why and Why not?

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Lewis

Tuesday, April 28, 2009 05:54 PM

Just curious where can you buy any type of seahorses from a reliable source? What are the pros and cons to getting a seahorse? Would you recommend it? Why or why not?

's avatar

Wednesday, April 29, 2009 06:11 PM

Hi Lewis,

Well, I don’t want to suggest any one person or company that sells seahorses, because that wouldn’t be fair to the other people who sell them as well.

What I will tell you, is that seahorses are a VERY delicate animal and require a lot of work and attention to detail.  They are very picky eaters in aquariums and they need their water parameters to be in near perfect condition for their health.  Seahorses are prone to catching common fish diseases, so poor water quality can get them sick quickly.

If you have a good amount of experience or training with saltwater aquariums (and are prepared for to maintain excellent husbandry practices) then it’s possible to care for seahorses at home.

One rule I am adamant about, is that one should NEVER buy wild-caught seahorses.  Seahorses are an important part of their ecosystems and they don’t always survive the transition from their natural environment to an enclosed environment. 

There are breeders who raise seahorses in aquariums, these are called “Tank Bred” or “Tank Raised” seahorses.  If you do buy seahorses, be sure these are the type you buy, not wild-caught seahorses. Any shop owner or online supplier will know this and will be able to tell you what type of seahorse they carry.  If they don’t know, don’t buy it!

Tank-raised seahorses are more likely to eat foods you can buy or raise on your own, as well.  So they are more likely to survive in your home aquarium too.

It is possible to obtain the Pacific Seahorse (Hippocampus ingens), but please be sure to follow the suggestions I gave above.

Happy fishkeeping!

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Thamara

Saturday, May 16, 2009 02:36 PM

Hi Chris,

I was wondering whether seahorses are born live or hatched from eggs?? Also, do they migrate during winter???? Do they go through any physical changes from birth to adulthood???

Thanks,

Thamara

's avatar

Monday, May 25, 2009 09:07 PM

Hi Thamara, thanks for writing!

Seahorses can be considered live born.  During courtship, the female releases eggs into the water column where the male catches them in his pouch.  Simultaneously the male releases sperm into the water which he collects along with the eggs.  The eggs are fertilized and grow inside the male’s pouch.

When pregnancy is over, the male expels the young from his pouch in repeated short bursts.  At this point they are fully developed and will not undergo any significant physical changes, aside from normal growth. 

Seahorses do not migrate.  They live in small groups in very defined territories which they rarely roam outside of.  This is one reason why they are often considered monogamous breeders.  It is more likely they are only monogamous during a single breeding season, as seahorses have been recorded to change partners from season to season.  Either way, it is clear seahorses develop close connections with the seahorses in their territory range.

All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.

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