The courtship of Pacific seahorses begins with an awkward dance.
Over the course of several days, a female and a male seahorse will start to mimic each other’s movements. As their synchronization improves, the couple perfects a routine that involves circling each other, holding tails and swimming upward in unison.
“Their courtship dance involves going up the water column, so they need a few feet of vertical space,” says Jennifer O’Quin Anstey, senior aquarist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Her responsibilities include looking after a suitably tall holding tank, in a back room with soft light, behind the aquarium’s ¡Viva Baja! exhibit.
Nearby, smaller tanks are full of baby seahorses. They look like miniature versions of the adults—but begin their lives a dark hue. Their color alternates between black and yellow as they mature.
“People kept telling me how difficult it was to rear them, which only made me more determined to do it,”Jenn says.
Aquarist Jenn Anstey raises Pacific seahorses (Hippocampus ingens) behind the scenes of the Aquarium’s “¡Viva Baja! Life on the Edge” special exhibit.
Wild Pacific seahorses may give birth to 1,500 offspring or more at a time, but perhaps as few as 1% of them survive to maturity. Jenn knew she could improve on that—but the right culturing tank would be key.
She tried out various designs, including cylindrical “kreisel” tanks made to hold other delicate animals. She tried black-out tanks and light-penetrating ones. Finally, she had some encouraging results with a 3.5-foot-tall, cylindrical black tank. It seems absurdly large for seahorses so small, but it worked the best.
Four broods in, she now has about 180 Pacific seahorses in the lab. “It was getting better with each batch,” she says. “I was euphoric.”
Of dozens of known seahorse species, Pacific seahorses (Hippocampus ingens) are among the largest, with fully-grown adults approaching a foot in length. Yet, they give birth to some of the smallest seahorse babies: Newborns are barely the size of a grain of rice, and they can be picky eaters.
Seahorse baby food
An aquarist feeds Pacific seahorse fry behind the scenes at Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Our Pacific seahorses dine on very tiny crustaceans: copepods, brine shrimp and mysid shrimp. Figuring out how to provide our seahorses with enough of the appropriate food source at each developmental stage is crucial for successful culturing.
To ensure a stable supply of the right feed at the right time, Jenn and her colleagues raise several species of copepods, which are especially nutritious for baby seahorses (or “fry”). They also feed probiotics to brine shrimp, which packs them with more nutritional punch. Once the fry reach two to three months of age, they transition to eating mostly mysid shrimp, which are a lot less work to raise behind the scenes.
“The first two months are the hardest,” Jenn says. “After that, you start to breathe easier.”
Raising both seahorses and their food is more than a full-time job. Jenn and three other aquarists—Sarah Halbrend, Kacey Kurimura and Alan Young—team up to provide the necessary seven-day-a-week care.
Seahorse culturing is about more than the strange cuteness of baby seahorses. Our team’s ambition is to ensure a healthy and self-sustaining Pacific seahorse collection for our ¡Viva Baja! special exhibition without relying on additional wild collection. Our success will allow other public aquariums to exhibit this species, and share its conservation story.
Threats to wild Pacific seahorses
Pacific seahorses range from the coast of Southern California all the way to South America. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources lists them as a vulnerable species.
Jenn describes the threats to Pacific seahorses as a mix of coastal development, incidental capture and targeted catch. They’re collected and sold as curios, and used in traditional medicine, as well as for the live aquarium trade.
Part of the reason we’re working to breed Pacific seahorses in-house is so that fewer are taken from the wild, according to Jonelle Verdugo, curator of fishes and invertebrates at the Aquarium.
“This species in particular is not very commonly displayed in aquariums, and isn’t as readily available,” Jonelle says. “Wild capture is something that we would really like to avoid.”
Breeding Pacific seahorse populations in captivity, however, can introduce the problem of dwindling genetic diversity. Without new wild seahorses bringing different genes to the pool, subsequent generations may face health issues. This is another challenge we’re addressing, with help from aquarium colleagues in Los Angeles County.
Swapping seahorse notes
In 2015, ocean researchers trawling in Southern California waters happened to catch two pregnant male seahorses, and donated both to Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. (Seahorses are part of that rare group of animals in which males carry their young to term.) On the drive to Cabrillo, one of the seahorses gave birth in a bucket.
It was a stroke of luck, according to Cabrillo Culture Aquarist Cody Larsen, because he’d been thinking about how to get Cabrillo’s seahorse breeding program in gear. Once the young Pacific seahorses were several months old, Cabrillo gave five of them to Monterey Bay Aquarium’s team, adding to our existing broodstock. Since then, Cody and Jenn have kept in touch to fine-tune their culturing protocols.
“I was very excited to hear from Jenn that she started having success rearing Pacific seahorses,” Cody says. “They’ve proven to be a difficult species to raise. To have a shared success makes me feel hopeful, because for a while, they had disappeared from almost all aquarium collections.”
As more of our young seahorses reach maturity, around four or five months of age, Jenn intends to share some of them with other aquariums. That will add the necessary new genes to existing captive broodstocks elsewhere.
“They’re going to go like hotcakes!” she says.
The work of Monterey Bay Aquarium and Cabrillo Marine Aquarium may make this impressive seahorse species more widely and sustainably available to other public aquariums in the U.S. That, in turn, will help reach more people with important stories about seahorse conservation.
“It’ll increase the genetic diversity of the captive-reared populations at other aquariums, while helping wild populations,” Jenn says. “It’s nice to know I can help spread the love.”
The google search history of a new Marine Bio major
-do whales have nicknames for each other
-do jellyfish make noises
-would jelly fish noises be more bloop or more sploosh
-why do some sea turtles look angry/annoyed
-can starfish dance
-why are dolphins mean
-why are dolphins horny
-what is wrong with dolphins
-cute shark video
-funny shark video
-sting ray smiling
-how long are eels
-can an eel tie itself in a knot of it wanted to
-are axolotls okay?
-is it possible for one person to singlehandedly save a coral reef
-how big is the biggest squid
-could a giant squid eat a person
-would people taste good to a squid
-do octopi know that they are awesome
-are octopi mean or are they cool, like nice and stuff
-tiny seahorse babies
-do whales have cliques
-like could there be a mean girls: whale edition
-do whales have whale gender stereotypes
• he’s friends with the entire ocean, I’m not even joking, he’d be swimming by and loads of baby seahorses swim towards him and snuggle into his neck, making him smile as he holds some in his hands
• While the other merfolk admire how much all of the sea creatures love him and how well he takes care of them.
• he does the same for the elders of the sea, he would visit them as much as he could, telling them stories of the week, making sure to drop off some seaweed he collected when he drops by
• he treated everyone as if they were his very own family and in return the was like a son or brother to them too.
• he makes sure none of the babies don’t stray from the boundaries of the seabed’s their community owned
• as a sign of thanks, more often than not he’d wake up to find some sort of gift whether it be shells, pearls or food so he keeps them in a trinket box he found from a ship wreck
• surfing was everything to you, you could escape your daily worries by fleeing to the beach, listening to the waves overlap and breathing in the fresh sea air, allowing all your thoughts to fall into place
• Your favourite thing to do though was to wake up really early at 5am and race to the sand dunes to watch the sunrise. Feeling the breeze against your skin as you sat, the sunbeams illuminating the small beach town you were from.
• it was a sight that never failed to amaze you, the sky was painted with baby pinks, oranges and then finally settled on a light blue.
• After watching the sunrise you raced to the beach with your board and made your way to the shore before the sand became crowded with people.
• And that was when sicheng first saw you, everyday just before sunrise he set off towards the shore to pick up some more seaweed for the elders and it was a plus if he could find more shells for his trinket box. he knew that the humans wouldn’t be awake for a few more hours so he took the chance to go towards the more shallow parts at the break of dawn
• when he looked up towards the colourful beach houses, which reflected an orange tint thanks to the sun, he came across a lone figure which very nearly made him gasp out loud
• there was simply no words to describe how beautiful you were, whether it was the way the sun made your skin glow and your hair shine, or the peaceful look on your face as you closed your eyes and listened to the waves
• sicheng really couldn’t understand why he was so infactuated with you but one thing he did know was that he wanted to find out more • as you advanced towards the waves he swam to the nearest cluster of rocks so that he wouldn’t be spotted easily • you ran out until you were waist deep and clambered onto the board, a leg on either side, sighing in content, the waves were perfect for surfing, laying flat on the board you began to paddle further into the sea, waiting for the perfect wave. • sicheng watched in amazement as you rode the waves like a fine art, like it was second nature, you had always been comfortable in water so when you first tried out surfing you were in love with it
• sicheng looked at the sky which was now sitting perfectly in the sky, it was time for him to return back home before more humans gathered at the beach and although he wished he could stay all day and admire your beauty it was too dangerous to stick around
• he took one more glance at you, taking in the details of your face before regretfully delving back into the sea and returned to the seabed • for the whole day you hadn’t left his mind, he told anyone that would listen as he drabbled on about you, the baby seahorses, the starfish and the elders who shared a knowing nod and exchanged smiles, they all knew that sicheng had begun to like the girl yet he didn’t even know himself, he had never experienced this warmth in his chest before, it was a completely alien to him. • • They were absolutely delighted that the “ocean’s son” had taken an interest in someone, even if it was a human. They had always wanted him to find someone who took care of him just as he took care of all of the merfolk and creatures in their community. • Everyone had picked up on his extra chirpy mood, humming songs under his breath and playing around with the clownfish. • Normally he would have been reluctant to wake up so early to go to the shore but the next day he darted across the sea floor and quickly picked the seaweed before zooming to same rocks he hid before, hoping to get a sight of your face amongst the tops of the sand dunes.
• his hopes of seeing you again began to fade as the sun rose in the sky, it must have been just pure luck that day that he had seen you, with a frown he returned back home with seaweed and a few shells in hand, anyone could see that he wasn’t the usual bright sicheng everyone knew and loved • the next few days were the same, you were a no show and his hopes of seeing you ever again were deflating • you had been given an offer by your manager to take care of his shop for a few days while he was on a business trip and in return he would pay you overtime, as soon as he came back you prepared everything for your long awaited surf • sicheng frowned making his way back to the shore again when he noticed a very familiar surfboard, he almost shouted in delight seeing you again when he never thought he would • looking around on your board, taking in the wonderful scenery when you come across a pair of eyes in the water which widened when they met yours, who else would be in the ocean at this time? you were so transfixed by the eyes in the water that you didn’t see the huge wave coming your way • the impact knocked you off your bored sending sicheng into a state of panic, seaweed long forgotten he raced towards you, taking you into his arms and swam towards the nearest rocks, placing you on them and swam back to retrieve your board • when he dived back you noticed his tail, leaving you in awe, he was a mermaid?! • he returned back to the rocks “are yOU OKAY?” • your eyes met with a handsome man, his eyes were beautiful, a deep brown colour, contrasting with the blues of the ocean, his brows slightly furrowed out of worry and his plump lips frowned slightly in concern. • “y-yeah I’m good now, thank you for saving me, w-what is that?” • you asked pointing down to his lower half • “oh this?” he smiled, spinning around “it’s my tail!”, diving into the water, allowing the scales to reflect off of the sun, showing a variety of blues and lilacs • you couldn’t help but smile back at him, the only word that came to mind to describe the merman was enchanting, his eyes glistened with amusement as you continued to stare at his tail • after overcoming the initial shock you threw question after question at sicheng, asking him about anything and everything making him laugh • “woah woah woah first of all my name’s sicheng and your’s is?” • “___________” • “wow it suits you” • “Huh?” • “beautiful” • after your cheeks turned the same colour as the sunlight, sicheng answered all of your questions one by one, often going on tangents of funny stories like how a whale tried to disguise itself with some coral during a game of hide and seek • After sharing stories of the sea and land the sun had risen and it was time for you both to return back to where you belonged. • “Promise you’ll come back and visit me?” • “I’ll be back tomorrow sicheng, you can count on it” • and that’s how your relationship blossomed, you tried to visit him as much as possible, bringing him beads for his trinket box and a necklace with a fish charm whereas he collected the finest shells he could find to give you in return • He’d swim right beside you as you surfed sharing lots of giggles when you took a break.
• one day you show up to the rocks before him which was never the case. thinking he had forgotten about the meeting when you see him swim alongside two dolphins, making you freak out, he knew that dolphins were your favourite animal and you had always wanted to swim with them • you plunged into the water and gave him a hug out of gratitude • “s-sicheng i-i can’t thank you enough this is the be-” • he quickly kissed your cheek to stop you from rambling, a quirk of yours he had quickly discovered • “shhh your rambling, go have fun i know how much you wanted this” he smiled, tucking a stray piece of hair behind your ear • nodding happily you took hold of his hand, lacing your fingers through his before gently taking hold of the dolphins fin, swimming around for the entire morning • finally reaching the rock again, you both smiled, most definitely one of the best memories you’ve ever made but only one of the many you hope to make with sicheng.
Wow this one is even longer than the last, please let me know what you think!! Feedback is always appreciated and have a wonderful day !!
But like, Original Soundwave is a Cassette Carrier, yeah? He carries all his little bots in his chest compartment, okay.
So… Seahorse Mer!Soundwave! He’s a “male” “daddy” and the male seahorses carry the baby seahorses anyways
And there is already seahorse babies that cling on and adore Soundwave and I can’t get the fucking adorable image of the daddy seahorse (mer?) and Soundwave bumping belly pouches and winding tails together