Almost 20 years after first documenting the extent of seahorse trade in Viet Nam, we returned to see what, if anything, has changed.
By Kately Nikiforuk
May’s featured iSeahorse observation is a trio of jaw-dropping action shots, courtesy of user thumbwave (aka Craig Chaddock). The intrepid citizen scientist witnessed a great blue heron (Ardea herodias) pick up and immediately let go of a Pacific seahorse (Hippocampus ingens), which clutched its grassy holdfast throughout the ordeal. After the seahorse was dropped, Craig managed to capture the split second before it vanished beneath the water’s surface. From this novel angle, the seahorse almost looks like a mini Loch Ness monster.
Seahorses, though predators themselves, are preyed upon by a wide range of animals. More than 80 species have been found with seahorses or pipefishes in their bellies. Examples of known seahorse snackers are loggerhead sea turtles, fairy penguins, skipjack tuna, spottail porgies and horn sharks. Because of their low abundance and meagre caloric value, predators probably feed on seahorses opportunistically, rather than being specialized to hunt them. Pacific seahorses, which are Vulnerable (IUCN Red List), are far more threatened by the shrimp trawling industry than by opportunistic predators such as great blue herons.
So why was the heron’s catch released? Was it a slip of the beak or an outright rejection? Seahorses have bony plates instead of scales and aren’t very nutritious, so perhaps the bird simply didn’t have time for a crunchy, skimpy meal. Regardless of why this happened, there’s no question that these photos were impressively timed. Thanks for sharing with us, Craig!
Learn more about seahorse predators here:
Kleiber D., L.K. Blight, I.R. Caldwell, and A.C.J. Vincent. 2011. The importance of seahorses and pipefishes in the diet of marine animals. Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 21(2): 205-223. DOI: 10.1007/s11160-010-9167-5
Surreal. Magical. Odd. Those three words immediately jumped to mind when I saw my very first seahorse in the wild.
Women DO participate in small-scale fisheries and often in ways distinct from men’s fishing. In this blog Dr Danika Kleiber (Project Seahorse Alumna) shares some of her experiences in working on this intriguing socio-cultural issue.
For April we’re showcasing an itty-bitty “sea-foal,” submitted by iSeahorse user Shane Gross. He happened upon this bobble-headed cutie in the Bahamas. It looks like it might be a baby slender seahorse (Hippocampus reidi), but it’s hard to say for sure at this age.
“I then had an idea to save the seahorses so that we could always live with these magnificent creatures, but how could I put this idea into practice?“
This month's featured iSeahorse observation highlights a champion hide-and-seeker, Denise’s pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus denise), courtesy of iSeahorse user maractwin. With their petite size and puppy dog eyes, they seem more like seadogs than seahorses
These projects have not only advanced seahorse conservation in my country, but they have also changed my life. Reflecting on the whole experience, I have three lessons about being a marine conservationist that I have learnt that I will share with you: ...
"It is difficult to understand and explain how on these lands, visited and studied by so many dedicated naturalists such as Charles Darwin and Alcides D´Orbigny that there were no records of seahorses inhabiting Patagonia."
Guest blog by Dr Diego Luzzatto
February’s iSeahorse featured observation is a pretty bigbelly seahorse and a pretty big deal - this marks iSeahorse’s 3,000th observation!!!
Seahorses enter a complicated system of trade from fishers to various levels of buyers and/or traders. By piecing together information from a number of different sources, we have been able to create a fuller, more accurate picture of the true catch and trade of seahorses in Viet Nam. More on that in part three of our blog, but in the meantime here are some images, taken by Hoang during his time in the field, which provide a glimpse into the life of a seahorse trade detective.
I went to Greece after a call from Vasilis Mentogiannis, a professional archaeological diver who contacted Project Seahorse to urge us to protect a local seahorse population. As I was not aware of any seahorse population in Greece (apart from some rare occasional sightings), I was very curious about this intriguing story.
I may have been shivering with cold, but my heart was leaping with excitement … I was face to face with the Patagonian seahorse, Hippocampus patagonicus, and it was magical. The species was only described in 2004 and is assessed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.
December’s featured observation, posted by iSeahorse user John Sear, is of a species that’s been pretty newsworthy as of late. So, do you want the good news or the bad news first? Well, you’ll actually get them both at once - White’s seahorse (Hippocampus whitei) is now recognized as an Endangered species, according to a 2017 IUCN Red List assessment. While it is obviously not a good thing for a species to be Endangered, their new status can be seen as a step in the right direction. Recognition of their declining population could provide a necessary push to implement more conservation strategies.
Trawling catches pretty much all fish and invertebrates, even while wrecking habitats. It is the single biggest threat to seahorses, but they are hardly alone in that. Trawling is a devastatingly bad way to fish.
In 2000, I was given one of the best awards in marine conservation, a Pew Fellowship. It came with generous funding, which we applied towards work on non-food fisheries and towards obtaining the first global export controls on marine fishes (for seahorses) under CITES. It also came with the most wonderful gift of a meeting each year. But not your ordinary meeting…
After everyone was in, we plunged under - and opened a door to a whole new world, that of a coral reef ! You could actually inspect a fish closely and the words “underwater paradise” would not explain it! If you know the game/app called “Tap tap fish”, it looked just like that.
The October's highlighted observation is of the great seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi), submitted by iSeahorse user Damaris Torres-Pulliza (@4reefs). Describing this picture as great is a bit of an understatement, actually - Project Seahorse biologist Lily Stanton said it reminded her of the famous Botticelli painting -The Birth of Venus !
This story begins in 1995 with Amanda Vincent and Marivic Pajaro uncovering a global seahorse trade of more than 15 million animals per year. Until then Viet Nam was reportedly a supplier of dried seahorses but little was known about the nature or magnitude of the trade, not to mention the status of the seven species of seahorses found along the shores of Viet Nam.