Ocean of Hope

The Seahorse Trade

pygmy seahorse
Pygmy Seahorses: picture by Steve Childs, Wikimedia Commons

Who hasn’t been beguiled by a seahorse exhibit at the local public aquarium, or even the ones at your local fish store. It is mesmerizing to watch their eyes darting independently here and there on the sides of their head, and it is amazing to watch the slow, deliberating way they stalk their prey before instantly sucking it in. Their body shape is so unlike any other in the animal kingdom, and their bumpy bony armor is just as strange. Strangest of all is that the males get pregnant and give birth! Yet this love for seahorses is costing 20 million seahorses their lives every year. Their main capture is for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, but they are also sold as souvenirs. Other seahorses are captured alive for the aquarium trade.

I have only seen one type of seahorse in the wild, and it was the pygmy seahorse. Pygmy seahorses are only 0.79 inches (2 centimeters) high, and they are perfectly camouflaged for the red gorgonian that they live in. Red bumps cover their white body in the same pattern of the gorgonian that is their home. What impressed me most was how well they hold on to the branch of the gorgonian with their tiny prehensile tails. They are risking their lives each time they let go of a branch to move to another. The current in which they live was so strong that I had to kick furiously to stay in one place to see them through my dive guide’s magnifying glass. This strong current brings them a constant supply of food, but one false move and there goes your lifelong mate and the only home you have ever known!

Here are some links to help seahorses:
Buy captive born and raised seahorses from Ocean Rider
One of the leading seahorse conservation programs Project Seahorse
You can help! Citizen science: iSeahorse Explore App

UPDATE: There are now estimates that up to 150 million seahorses are killed annually.

The Endangered Animals of Finding Nemo: Seahorses

seahorses, endangered species
Sheldon the Seahorse from Finding Nemo

Did you know that 1 out of 6 animals featured in Finding Nemo is endangered? Here’s one:

Hi, I’m Sheldon, the seahorse from Finding Nemo. Ahchoo! The following are characteristics I share with all other seahorses; some of them are unique only to seahorses!

1. Males get pregnant and give birth (the eggs are from mom though!)

2. Seahorses are fish, even though they have a unique body shape

3. Seahorses have no stomach so they must eat constantly

4. Seahorses have prehensile tails (like a monkey) to grab onto things (and keep us from drifting away in the current!)

5. Seahorses have bony plates all over their body for protection

6. Seahorses can change color to match their surroundings

7. There are 47 known species of seahorses

8. The largest seahorse is the Pot-bellied Seahorse at almost 14 inches (35 cm) long

9. The smallest seahorse is the Pygmy Seahorse at less than an inch (2 cm) long

10. Over 20 million seahorses are caught and sold a year

Many species of seahorses are threatened or endangered with extinction. Seahorses are caught and dried for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and sold as souvenirs. Live seahorses are caught for the aquarium trade.

Seahorses are also caught as by-catch in fishing nets. Seahorses are also threatened by habitat destruction. Even deforestation on land can cause silt (fine dirt) to flow onto the seagrass and coral reef areas where many seahorses live. Pollution can affect all habitats that seahorses live in, including coral reefs, seagrass areas, mangroves, and estuaries.

You can help seahorses by:

1. not buying seahorses live or dead

2. supporting marine protected areas (like national parks for the ocean)

3. reduce the pollution flowing into the ocean (remember Gill said to Nemo, “All drains lead to the ocean, kid?”)

4. support forest conservation along the coastlines where seahorses live.

Visit Project Seahorse

Endangered Species International