By Kately Nikiforuk
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.
Young short-head seahorses bear a resemblance to young bigbelly seahorses, which inhabit Australian waters as well, but can be distinguished based on their lesser number of trunk rings. Due to their name, the short-head seahorse is also confused with the short-snouted seahorse (H. hippocampus), which is an entirely different species. Short-snouted seahorses are found in Europe, the Mediterranean Sea and parts of Africa, whereas the short-head seahorse is endemic to southern Australia. Endemic species are unique to a defined geographic location so it is particularly important to preserve their habitat - they have nowhere else to swim to. In the case of H. breviceps, a large portion of their turf is confined to the Port Phillip Bay region.
Some specimens from western Australia have longer, narrower snouts, leading to speculation that the western short-head seahorse population is actually a separate species. During the day, short-heads dine close to the sand, hoovering up mysids (shrimp-like crustaceans). At night, it is believed that small groups congregate in floating macroalgae to take cover from crabs. The females of this species occupy a substantially larger range than their male counterparts.
Compared to drabber seahorses, H. breviceps is particularly vulnerable to live capture for the aquarium trade, as their yellow, red or purple colouring is irresistible to collectors. It is thought that less than 100 are removed annually from their habitat for display purposes, but due to limited data, it is unknown how much of a threat this poses for the sustainability of wild populations.
Overall, not much is known about H. breviceps, so the IUCN currently lists them as a Data Deficient species. Divers like ken_flan who contribute to iSeahorse are helping biologists understand more about the short-head seahorse, which will eventually allow us to have a more specific Red List classification and a targeted conservation action plan.
Originally posted on iSeahorse.org