Commentary

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

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.

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…

Searching for clues in the catch and trade of seahorses in Viet Nam 

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. 

Do we need to ban bans? The case of the seahorse in India

Does banning the catch and trade of a species really help conservation efforts? This is the question that my research with Project Seahorse, Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, The University of British Columbia (UBC), explores. I am studying the impact of catch and trade bans on the conservation of incidentally caught marine species, and the livelihoods dependent on them. To understand this, I use the case study of seahorses in India, where the fisheries are poorly regulated.

Reflecting on SyngBio, the global gathering for seahorse, pipefish & seadragon people

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. 

Endangered Species Day

“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 - a Jayakar’s seahorse from Egypt

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!).