Monthly Archives: December 2011

Seahorse FAQ

There’s no denying that seahorses are fascinating, magical little creatures but, apart from being pretty, what do we actually know about them and why are they so important? This page will answer the common (and the not so common) questions swimming through your brain, to give you a better insight into the life of a seahorse.

Where does the seahorse get its name?

  • Seahorse derives from the Ancient Greek word ‘hippocampus‘. ‘Hippos’ meaning ‘horse’ and ‘kampos’ meaning ‘sea monster’.

How many different types of seahorse species are there?

Which type of seahorses live around the British Isles?
Where are they found around the English coast?
  • The Short-Snouted Seahorse is found along the south coast of England and the Channel Islands. The Spiny Seahorse is also found along the south coast but also along the west coast up to the Shetland Isles.

Can seahorses make a noise?

  • Seahorses produce clicking and popping sounds during feeding and courtship. They do this by moving two parts of their skull against each other.

What is the name for a group of seahorse?

  • A Herd

A group of seahorses is known as a Herd. Image via weheartit.com

What is the average life span of a seahorse?

  • There is no definite answer but it ranges from roughly one year for the smaller species to an average of three to five years for the larger species.

What do seahorses eat?

  • Brine shrimp, tiny fish and plankton. An adult eats 30-50 itmes a day. Seahorse fry (baby seahorses) eat a staggering 3000 pieces of food per day.

How do seahorses eat?

  • Seahorses have no teeth and no stomach. Food passes through their digestive systems so quickly, they must eat almost constantly to stay alive.

How do seahorses have babies?

  • The female seahorse lays the eggs and transfers them into the male seahorses pouch where they are then incubated. Every male seahorse has an incubation pouch in its body.  The eggs are fertilized by the male, who also goes through the labour process and it takes 2-3 weeks for the babies to be born.

It is the male seahorse who gets pregnant and gives birth. Image via weheartit.com

What are the main threats to seahorses?

There are three main reasons seahorses are at risk:

  1. Firstly, the Traditional Chinese Medicine Trade take in excess of 20 million seahorses a year from the wild to be used for medicinal purposes.
  2. They are used as souvenirs in many countries. They are deliberately taken from the sea by the Curio Trade and left to die in the boiling sun.
  3. The pet trade takes an estimated one million seahorses. It is thought that less than 1,000 of these live for more than six weeks.
Advertisements

Pygmy seahorse Code of Conduct

Marine life expert and underwater photographer, Dr Richard Smith, has dedicated much of his time to allowing us less ocean-knowledgeable folk an in-depth look at a habitat we wouldn’t usually have the privilege to see.

Pygmy Seahorse Bargibanti captured by Dr Richard Smith via OceanRealmlmages.com

Educated from one end of the globe to the other, he has a Zoology degree from Southampton University, England and an MSc in Ecology and Evolution from the University of Queensland, Australia. With over 2000 dives under his belt Richard has achieved Divemaster status. It was just last year that Richard was awarded a doctorate for his research into the biology and conservation of, yes you guessed it, seahorses. Pygmy to be specific. It was during his PhD in which he created the Code of Conduct for diving with and photographing pygmy seahorses.

“I’m trying to have the Code of Conduct reach as many divers as possible and it’s always great for the general public to learn more about seahorses too.” – Dr Richard Smith

Pygmy seahorses have the smallest population of any species of seahorse. Measuring between 1.4 and 2.7 cm in length, their size makes them extremely fragile and delicate, and caution must be taken when documenting them and their habitat. Dr Richard Smith’s main aim is to reduce the negative impact that divers have on these rare animals and, to ensure greater protection of this species, created The Code of Conduct guidelines presented here:

  1. Do not touch or manipulate pygmy seahorses in any way, as this can easily damage or even kill them
  2. Do not touch the gorgonian home of the seahorse (they are extremely slow-growing and delicate), take particular care of camera position and exhalent bubbles
  3. Do not use a torch/flashlight or camera focus light to highlight a pygmy seahorse, this disorientates and stresses them
  4. Use white balanced natural light rather than artificial light for video capture to reduce disturbance from bright lights
  5. Five photo limit per diver using flash photography, as more can stress the animal
  6. No night diving with pygmy seahorses – they sleep at night and lights disturb them
  7. Be aware of the surrounding environment, pay close attention to fin positioning, so not to damage other corals

Pygmy Seahorse Denise captured by Dr Richard Smith via OceanRealmlmages.com

Find out more about the work of Dr Richard Smith visit his website, Ocean Realm Images and keep up to date with him on Twitter @Rich_Underwater 

Government delay plans to introduce MCZs

The government have withdrawn their decision to confirm the introduction of Marine Conservation Zones, around the coastline of the UK, early next year. Plans to protect certain areas of the ocean, in order to give marine life a safer environment to live, were set to be designated at the beginning of 2012. These plans have now been postponed until at least 2013.

Insufficient evidence was provided by stakeholder groups according to Defra, the government department for environment, food and rural affairs. Defra Environment Minister Richard Benyon said, “it is vital that we have an adequate evidence base for every site if we are to create successful well-managed MCZ’s.” He continued, “the need to strengthen the evidence base for the MCZ recommendations means this is going to take longer than the ambitious target first put forward.”

Map showing Marine Conservation Zones originally planned for 2012. Image via Julie Hatcher

One of the proposed sites around the coast of the UK is Studland Bay, Dorset. Julie Hatcher, Marine Conservation Officer for the Dorset Wildlife Trust explained, “originally the government said [the lack of evidence] shouldn’t delay the process because we need to have these areas in place as soon as possible. They said the best available evidence was good enough. Now for some reason they’ve gone against that.” Below she explains more:

Studland is thriving with marine life and is home to the two species of seahorse, Spiny and Short-Snouted. Since 2008 these seahorse have been legally protected by the government under the Wildlife and Countryside Act when there were added to a list of species protected by law. The seahorse is one of the very few marine species on this list after much concern that they needed protection. Julie explained, “the statutory authorities are already looking at putting management in place to make sure seahorses and their habitat aren’t being damaged. That’s going ahead anyway, whether or not the MCZ goes forward.”

Spiny seahorse which gained legal protection in 2008. Image via Dorset Wildlife Trust

Although the seahorses of Studland have protection, the rest of the marine life in the area, including the endangered Undulate ray, and around the UK do not. Studland Bay has sufficient evidence to support how sensitive the area is for wildlife but many areas’ data collection is not as solid. This has delayed Defra’s plan to confirm designation of sites, however there has not yet been a definitive answer as to how much data is sufficient.

Julie Hatcher explains below why Marine Conservation Zones, in her opinion, are so important.