If you have ever tried water sports or gone swimming off the Southwest Coast of Florida you may well have spotted some incredible marine life that you haven’t seen up close before, among them, the seahorse. These beautiful little creatures can be found in the Gulf of Mexico and can be quite difficult to see because of the camouflage they use to hide themselves from predators, although fortunately for them, they don’t have too many predators due to the fact that they are not a very tasty treat. Seahorse’s bodies are made up from a very thin layer of skin, covering bony plates, that puts them pretty low down in the food chain.
There are number of different varieties of seahorse found in the United States but the most common species found off the Gulf Coast is the Lined Seahorse or Hippocampus erectus. The Dwarf Seahorse or Hippocampus Zosterae are the smallest of all of the species and measure between 1 to 2 inches long. The Dwarf Seahorse is found in the southern Gulf of Mexico and the Lined Seahorse is more commonly found in the northern part of the gulf.
Seahorses are the only creature where the male rather than the female, gets pregnant all year round; the female transfers her eggs into the male, who incubates them and gives birth to them. After the seahorses are born they are not nurtured by the parents but are on their own right from the very beginning.
Seahorses are in fact a breed of fish but they don’t actually swim like fish do, they attach themselves to seagrass beds using their tails as a hook and they merely float. As seahorses have no teeth, they feed by sucking in tiny fish that pass by, through their noses. Seahorses have to eat constantly as they don’t have a stomach, so any food they do eat passes right through their little bodies.
The rapid decline of sea grass beds in the Southwest Florida, is a huge concern and threat to the dwarf seahorse population. Coupled with this, seahorses are also in high demand as pets but more worryingly as food and medicine for some Southeast Asian countries. This only adds to the threat of extinction from the Gulf Coast waters.
Several other factors threaten the seahorse including noise pollution, hurricanes, tropical storms and by catch from fishing boat, even if they are thrown back into the water it is unlikely that they will survive. The low frequency noise from passing motor boats can also harm the reproduction rates of seahorses.
The good news is that the government is now considering whether the dwarf seahorses should have federal protection and make the trading of them a criminal offense.
Because of the rapid decline in population, you will really need to be very patient and keep your eyes open if you want to catch a glimpse of a dwarf seahorse but they are absolutely worth the wait.