June’s featured seahorse is a giant seahorse (Hippocampus ingens), spied off the coast of Baja, California by iSeahorse user afelix, despite some masterful camouflage.
By Lily Stanton
I’ve just had the most amazing week in Florida, filling my head with wonder and my heart with joy. I wasn’t sure what to expect on my first International SyngBio meeting where hundreds of researchers and professionals from all over the world were set to meet in Tampa, Florida. After all, I am new to the Syngnathid world. But, I reasoned, what better place to learn about seahorses, pipefishes, pipehorses and seadragons than a meeting full of the leading experts in the field?
As it turns out, I had underestimated just how fun and rewarding SyngBio would be, full of collegiality and intellectual excitement. The schedule was jam packed with interesting talks and social events. With far-flung topics ranging from sexual selection and genomics to husbandry and aquaculture, I was fascinated by the range of presentations and impressed by their excellence. It was just wonderful to hear from people who are based all over the world, all focused on these improbable fishes.
I really appreciated the diversity of the SyngBio experience, where passion for these fishes was ever-present. Our first social event was set against the background of the main reef exhibit at the Florida Aquarium. Under dimmed lights, we sat in amazement as presenters shared their personal scientific stories and photos about their research. Even the curious green sea turtle named Flip couldn’t resist coming closer to catch a glimpse of the activities happening right before her, rather upstaging the wonderful story telling.
My brain strained to keep up with the wave of new knowledge. Throughout the meeting, we learned of everything syngnathid, from a new species of pipehorse to the fascinating world of seahorse communication (did you know seahorses click, growl and purr?). There were also alarming tales of annihilation fishing in India, the devastating effects of trawling in Southeast Asia and the extraction of seahorses for the dried trade in Portugal. All this nicely intermixed with a good dose of inspirational conservation success stories of seagrass restoration in the Tampa Bay Estuary, citizen science helping save seahorses through iSeahorse Philippines and the imaginative use of discarded fishing traps to create “seahorse hotels” in Australia. We learned how to train your dragon - your seadragon that is - and how “The Secret Lives of Seahorses” exhibit broke attendance records at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Indeed, these fantastical fishes have captivated the imagination of many people for many years. And for me, it is no different. I could feel my excitement about these fishes growing, the more I discovered.
I even observed some syngnathids, up close and personal in their natural habitat. Among the many memorable moments I had at SyngBio, the best by far was the field excursion. We were spoilt for choice, having to decide between a behind-the-scenes tour of the Florida Aquarium or the Mote Marine Laboratory, Bird watching or BioBlitz, a chance to immerse ourselves (literally) with the wild animals. I, of course, chose BioBlitz and was thrilled at the opportunity to get out into the warm waters of Tampa Bay and push small nets through seagrass beds to sample the improbably small dwarf seahorses and pipefishes. My choice did not disappoint, I was delighted to see many wild seahorses and pipefish for the very first time! A truly magical experience. One I will not soon forget. These fishes are just so tiny … and happily so abundant in the restored habitats of Tampa Bay.
The fun lasted until the very end. SyngBio concluded with a fantastic boat cruise and an evening banquet – complete with crazy awards – at the Florida Aquarium. An enjoyable evening had by all with new found friends and colleagues. It will be hard to top the stunning scenery and amazing hospitality of our hosts at The University of Tampa and the Florida Aquarium but I am sure the next set of organizers are up for the challenge. See you all in a few years’ time!
May’s featured iSeahorse observation is of a great seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi), submitted by an equally great iSeahorse contributor, Andrew Trevor-Jones!
Perhaps, as conservationists, we all need a sense of optimism. How much better to light a candle for the hope of saving wildlife, rather than curse the darkness of humanity.
“Extinction Lasts Forever” reads the colourful poster of a seahorse, wrasse, turtle, and octopus beside my desk at Project Seahorse. It reminds me of the poster hanging in my room as an undergraduate biology student, the one that said, “Protect them: because once they’re gone it’s too late.”
April’s featured iSeahorse observation is a Jayakar’s seahorse (Hippocampus jayakari). This lovely portrait was taken off the coast of Dahab, Egypt, by iSeahorse user poseidon. The username poseidon is certainly apt for a fish-whispering diver, as the Poseidon of Greek mythology is said to ride a chariot pulled by aquatic equines called hippocampi, which allegedly have horse heads and fish tails (sort of like seahorses… or horse mermaids!).
Retired commercial diver (and regular iSeahorse contributor) ken_flan discovered this honey-hued head turner - a short-head seahorse (Hippocampus breviceps) - off the coast of Victoria, Australia.
February’s featured observation is actually three sightings of one bigbelly seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis), all posted recently by iSeahorse user Andrew Trevor-Jones but recorded over the course of several years off the coast of New South Wales, Australia. This rotund beauty has been dubbed “Rosie”. She was identified as the same individual based on her distinctive spot pattern.
The really big news out of Johannesburg is that regulating exports of marine fish species has become normal, part of the mainstream business of CITES.
The first showcased iSeahorse sighting of 2017 is of a thorny seahorse, Hippocampus histrix. It was found within the boundary of Mafia Island Marine Park, a region in Tanzania consisting of island, coastal and ocean ecosystems that are internationally acclaimed for their biodiversity.
December’s celebrity iSeahorse syngnathid is a long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus). It’s one of two species hailing from Europe, its counterpart being the short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus).
One story, however, had a positive message that stood out from the rest: the successful conservation of whale sharks along the coast of Gujarat, a state on India’s west coast.
November’s featured iSeahorse observation is of a Japanese seahorse, Hippocampus mohnikei. This little fish was spied off the Cambodian coast during a formal seahorse survey conducted by Projects Abroad Cambodia. The sighting is rather timely, considering the recent publication of a paper illuminating updates in knowledge about this species’ range, habitat and threats.
When I left for the CITES CoP, I told my 5 year old son that I was going to a meeting where all the world’s countries were coming together to make sure that all the animals and plants around today would be around when he grew up – and I left South Africa still convinced that this is exactly the best way to describe the CoP.
Midshipmen are not ordinary fish - their songs are loud enough to wake houseboaters, they have rows of small light-producing organs that resemble buttons on the uniforms of naval officers (hence their name), and the males come in two distinct reproductive types, guarders and sneakers. However when Let’s Talk Science at UBC (LTS) was looking for a cool science project to get students from underprivileged Surrey high schools excited about BC's marine ecosystems, a strangeness or hook is exactly what was wanted.
September’s featured iSeahorse observation comes to us from the Island of São Tomé. Nuno Vasco Rodrigues spotted a group of five West African seahorses, Hippocampus algiricus, near a small island off the west coast of Gabon, West Africa. This species is one of two occurring in the eastern Atlantic Ocean off of Africa (the other being Hippocampus hippocampus)
Our job was to find common challenges and opportunities for managing wildlife trade among seahorses, sharks, rays, humphead wrasse, European eels, and sturgeons. These very cool fishes are united as the first wave of fishes to come under global regulations, requiring that no export threaten wild populations. While that sounds good, the challenge, as ever, lies in the implementation … and that was our focus.
Historical map makers – who worked before the world was fully explored – drew dragons and mermaids at the edges of the known world. Today these mythical creatures have vanished from our maps; the world has been mapped by waves of explorers, surveys, and satellites. We have grown incredibly precise at mapping features as diverse as ocean temperatures, aquifers, and ocean habitats. Yet much remains unknown.
The iSeahorse featured observation for June comes to us from the island of Negros in the Central Philippines. Anna Pfotenhauer managed to snap this great photo of Barbour’s seahorse (Hippocampus barbouri) in just 3 metres of water.