With a horse-like shaped head, deep chest, upright posture and a tail that can grip and hold objects (prehensile tail), seahorse’s are one of the most unusual looking fish. Also, unlike other fish, they have a layer of stretchy skin over an armour of rings. Rapid movement of their dorsal fin powers them to swim and their pectoral fins at the side of their body helps guide and steer them through the water.
Seahorses feed on small crustaceans and baby shrimp and may feed for up ten hours per day. As they are unable to move rapidly, they use their elongated snout to suck and catch prey.
Seahorses mate exclusively with the same partner for life, or at least until their partner dies. They perform a ‘greeting dance’ each morning to display and confirm their bond for each other. Another fact that makes seahorses different to other fish is that the male becomes pregnant, not the female. During courtship, the female seahorse will lay between 250 to 650 eggs in the males ‘brood’ pouch and incubation is approximately 21 days. The hatchlings, which look like miniature adult seahorses, receive no further parental care making them independent from birth.
Unfortunately, there is a huge demand for these creatures. They are illegally target caught by fisheries which they then dry and sell as curios and also for traditional Chinese medicine; it is used to treat an array of ailments from impotence, to throat infections, to asthma but is also considered to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
The seahorses at the Oceanarium have either been captive bred or were rescued after confiscation by customs. They can be found in the Marine Research Laboratory in the Bournemouth aquarium.