A herd of Endangered White’s seahorses

By Kateley Nikiforuk

This month we’re highlighting a whole herd of White’s seahorses (Hippocampus whitei), thanks to scale-blazing scuba diver Tony Strazzari! Despite only joining iSeahorse on May 18th, Strazzari has posted over 140 seahorse observations under the username of tonydiver, backdated all the way to 2014. He is now in third place (and encroaching on second) for the most observations posted to iSeahorse, solely surpassed by Guylian Seahorses of the World and Projects Abroad Cambodia. This is especially impressive considering that the latter two are composed of many contributors.

White's seahorses. Photos by Tony Strazzari.

An avid diver circa 1991, Tony has posted over 5000 observations to iNaturalist, featuring a diverse array of aquatic species. As far as seahorses go, he has also captured tiger tail seahorses (H. comes), Denise’s pygmy seahorses (H. denise), and Bargibant’s pygmy seahorses (H. bargibanti) on camera, but the vast majority have been White’s seahorses. H. whitei, which can only be found in Australian waters, was declared Endangered by the IUCN Red List within the last year, so we are delighted to have more information about this species.

While Tony certainly deserves recognition for his contribution to Hippocampus science and conservation, it was difficult to choose one photographer to focus on, as this has been a particularly fruitful month for seahorse observations. In June alone, we received nearly 200! We are thrilled about this - thanks to everyone who helped make this happen. Keep the syngnathid snapshots coming!

View the original observations of the White’s seahorses featured here:

View the rest of tonydiver’s iSeahorse observations

A seahorse as prey - featured iSeahorse observation

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 animalsReviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries 21(2): 205-223.  DOI: 10.1007/s11160-010-9167-5

We return to searching for clues in the catch and trade of seahorses in Viet Nam 

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. 

The strange case of Stratoni seahorses

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.

Patagonian seahorses send excited chills down my spine

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.

iSeahorse featured observation: White's seahorse - newly recognised as Endangered

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.

With applause comes responsibility 

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…

iSeahorse's featured observation for October - the great seahorse

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 !