- Genus: Hippocampus spp.
- Different sea horse species are considered either vulnerable or endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
- Wild seahorses are monogamous and spend their lives with one mate.
- Seahorses have no teeth and no stomach. Food passes through their digestive systems so quickly that they must always eat to stay alive.
The sea horse is found in coastal areas all over the world in both temperate and tropical waters. Seahorses are not very good swimmers so they often live in areas where they can seek shelter from strong currents such as mangroves roots, seagrasses, seaweeds, and coral reefs.
There are few formal studies on seahorse population. Their numbers are difficult to estimate because they hide and some species are small and hard to see, with the smallest seahorse species only being half an inch tall. CITES currently recognizes 39 species of seahorse and the IUCN has listed 9 seahorse species as vulnerable, 1 species as endangered. Twenty-eight (28) species lack information and are listed as data deficient.
Why they are important
Seahorses are important in the food chain, consuming tiny fish, small shrimp, and plankton and being consumed by larger fish such as tuna and rays, as well as crabs. They are of particular interest to science because of their interesting form and behaviors. Especially unique is the “male pregnancy” associated with seahorses and pipefishes with the males having a brood organ into which the female places her eggs, with the male caring for the eggs and giving birth.
They are easily identified by their head which looks similar to a horse’s head, rough or bony skin, curled tail, and their preference to swim in an upright posture. They can curl their tail around seagrass blades and mangrove roots to prevent them from being dragged away by strong currents.
Seahorses are one of the few animals on the planet that have the ability to change the color of their skin. They do this in order to blend in with their environment and hide from predators such as other fish and to communicate with other seahorses.
Reproduction occurs via the female placing the eggs into the male’s brood pouch, something similar to a uterus in humans. Each pregnancy can easily yield more than 100 young. The life span of a seahorse ranges from species to species, the smallest species only live up to a year while the bigger species can live from 3 to 5 years. They generally have a fast life cycle often hitting maturity at an early age, have high natural mortality, and multiple spawning per year.
Increasing demand for seahorses are putting them at the risk of extinction and lack of population data for a lot of seahorse species means we don’t know how big their vulnerability to extinction is. Pollution such as toxic chemicals or runoff is also harming the environment of the seahorse. Their preferred habitats are fragile and vulnerable to pollution.
Their unique features make them a popular souvenir item in the form of dried seahorses or as pets in the aquarium trade. However, seahorses are often stressed in aquarium environments and only a few manage to live long.
Traditional medicine makes them incredibly valuable for fishermen and retailers. They can often be sold from $600 – $3,000 USD per kilogram depending on the species. They are used as a natural aphrodisiac and cures for many ailments but scientific research has shown that these traditional medicines are not effective at all.
What we can do
Do not purchase seahorse products. This includes traditional medicine, food products, and souvenir items.
Do not buy seahorses for aquariums. They do not like aquarium environments and often do not survive. It is better to leave them in their natural habitat so they can also serve their ecosystem role.
Do not pollute the sea. Pollution easily affects the habitat of the seahorse especially the fragile seagrass and coral environments.
Laws that protect seahorses in the CT3 (Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia)
Seahorse pregnancy is very unique. How is it different from most pregnancies?
Answer by commenting on the Facebook post by CTI-Southeast Asia!
Article by Panji Brotoisworo. Art by Dana Rose Salonoy.