Seahorse

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Marine life in Bali – Seahorse – Fun Facts

It doesn’t look like, but it is a fish!

Seahorse (genus Hippocampus), are intriguing little creatures. They are fish belonging to the Syngnathidae family, which also includes needlefish and pipefish as well.

Its scientific name comes from the Greek (hippos, which means “horse”), and kampos (“sea monster”).

Where does seahorse live?

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Seahorse lives mainly in shallow tropical and temperate water thought the world. They live in corals, macro-algae, gorgonians and mangroves.

How many species exist?

There are 54 known species of hippocampus, which vary in size and appearance.

The smallest is Denise hippocampus (Hippocampus Denise). In fact, its size ranges from 0.8 to 2 centimetres long.

Among the largest species is the pot-bellied seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), with a length of up to 35 centimetres.

Fun facts about seahorse

Seahorses’ bodies are covered in tiny, hard, spiny plates, that are fused together. They breathe through gills, have a flexible neck, a snout and a prehensile tail that allows them to grab onto seagrass and other weeds and prevents them from being washed away by strong currents and waves. They do not have scales. 

Seahorse is a poor swimmer!

Yes, they are poor swimmers. They swim upright and rely on their dorsal fin beating at 30-70 times per second to propel themselves along.

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Pectoral fins located at either side of the head help with stability and steering. To move up and down, they adjust the volume of air in a tiny pocket inside their body, called  ‘swim bladder’.

They do talk to each other

To communicate with each other,  they make a kind of noise with rapid movements of their head. In truth, they rub the skull with its upper external skeleton.

It is master of camouflage

Seahorse is a master of camouflage. In fact, this fish can be incredibly difficult to spot.  Depending on the species, they are even able to develop long or short skin filaments or change their color thanks to special structures in their skin cells called chromatophores.

Since they move very slowly, this camouflage strategy is vital for their survival. 

Seahorses are super-skilled ambush predators, and camouflage skills are also essential when hunting. They feed on small crustaceans and actually, they don’t chase their food. In fact, they wait, unnoticed, for prey to pass by.

They eat a lot!

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Because seahorse doesn’t have teeth or stomachs, eating and digestion is quite the chore.

They have to eat constantly so they don’t starve. For instance, they eat 30 to 50 times and up to 3,000 or more brine shrimp every day. 

Seahorse has excellent eyesight and their eyes can work independently on either side of their head. This means that they can look back and forth at the same time, which is particularly helpful in finding their prey. When the prey comes within reach, seahorse sucks it through its bony snout by a quick movement of its head. Their snouts can expand if their prey is larger than they are. Because they don’t have teeth, they swallow their prey whole.

Seahorse is territorial

Some species of seahorse are territorial. Usually, females have a territory of about 100 square metres, while males have a territory of about 0.5 square metres. Their territories overlap.

Seahorse stay with the same partner for life

Many species of seahorse are monogamists, sticking with one partner for long periods of time or even for life.

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Courtship rituals

Every morning seahorse couples meet to greet each other and to strengthen their romantic bond with an elaborate courtship display. The female meets the male in his territory and as they get closer they change color. Male surrounds the female and the pair often spirals together around an object. This ritual can last up to an hour. Once over, the female returns to her territory.

Reproduction can be triggered by light, temperature and also by turbulence of the sea in the area.

When their reproductive cycles are properly synchronized, the couple performs the ceremonial dance. They’ll twist their tails together and pirouette in a slow motion.

After the elaborate dance, the male drops his seminal fluid, and the fertilisation occurs as the eggs enter the male’s brood pouch. Females pass their eggs with the help of a genital appendix, called an ovopositor, about three millimeters long, into the males’ ventral pouch. Both the entrance of the eggs in the pouch, as well as their fertilization, occur in an extraordinarily fast process (just 6 seconds). The number of eggs can vary from 50-150 for smaller species to 1,500 for larger ones.

Male seahorse carries the eggs during pregnancy

Unlike other species, the male seahorse is the one that gets pregnant and is in charge of egg development.

In fact, male seahorse carries the eggs for ten days to six weeks, depending on the species and also the temperature of the seawater. After this period, the male gives birth to the young. This can be a long process with contractions lasting up to 12 hours.

The male typically gives birth at night and is ready for the next batch of eggs by morning when his mate returns, and the pair immediately mate again. 

Newborns are totally independent

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Newborns look like a smaller version of their parents, about seven to eleven millimeters long. As soon as they are born they are on their own, completely independent.

They spend the first 2 or 3 weeks of their life slowly drifting in the plankton layer of the ocean, looking for something to hold on to.

Because they have numerous predators, less than one out of 1,000 survives long enough to become an adult.

How long does seahorse live?

Seahorse can live for 1 to 5 years.

Seahorse need our help!

Humans are the greatest threat to the seahorse. Because they often live in shallow water near the coast, human activities such as pollution, fishing and development have threatened their numbers.

More than 150 million seahorses are captured each year to be used in traditional Chinese medicine and to prepare all kinds of medicines.

Seahorse, along with starfish and shells, is also targeted in souvenirs markets. They are caught in the sea and then left burned to death under the sun.

Another great danger is the pet trade. It is estimated that one million seahorse are taken every year from the wild and it is thought that less than 1,000 survive more than six weeks in aquariums. 

Unfortunately, because of all of these threats, some species of seahorse are vulnerable to extinction.

Where can we dive with seahorse in Bali?

In Bali we have many different species of these fabulous animals. We can often spot seahorse all along the East Coast. From Tulamben to Amed and all the dive sites in between. As well in Padangbai. For example at Blue Lagoon and Jepun Wreck.

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Be a responsible diver

Seahorses are an important part of the marine world, therefore saving them is imperative. In fact, you can make a difference by:

  • master a perfect buoyancy to avoid touching anything underwater
  • Do not touch coral and take any marine life
  • Only dive with companies which have endorsed and adhere to the Code of Conduct
  • refuse to buy seahorse souvenirs and wild-caught seahorse for aquarium
  • support marine protected areas
  • reduce ocean pollution
  • always follow your dive guide instructions

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