Seahorse, Seadragon Conservation and Research projects at S.E.A. Aquarium

The Spotted Seahorse

Seahorses, seadragons and pipefishes belong to the same family, the Syngnathids. Instead of having internal bones for support, they have long semi-flexible bodies covered with bony plates and rings. The Syngnathids are truly distinctive fish as the females of the species will lay eggs but males will carry the unborn young.

Seahorse and seadragon populations have been devastated globally due to overexploitation and habitat loss. Seahorse and seadragons are also commonly harvested for ornamental and aquarium use. Twelve species have been assessed and highlighted as threatened on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Since 2004, the trade of seahorses has also been regulated, through the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to ensure populations can thrive in the wild.

By conducting breeding programs we can sustainably stock our habitats and reduce the dependence on wild sources. Through collaborative efforts we aim to exchange the Syngnathids with other accredited facilities to improve genetic diversity and assist to raise awareness of these animals.

Breeding seahorses

We display two species of seahorse, the Estuarine seahorse (Hippocampus kuda) and the Tiger-tailed seahorse (Hippocampus comes). Both species are found in Singapore waters and have been assessed as Vulnerable (IUCN Red List of Threatened Species) and their trade is internationally regulated (CITES Appendix II).

seahorse-1

Seahorse populations are under threat from habitat destruction, collection for medicinal use, trade and souvenirs. The Tiger-tail in particular being one of the most commonly traded seahorse species. Attempts to farm seahorses have been proposed as a solution to meet the demand, but efforts to breed both species have met with limited success.

The aim of our project at S.E.A. Aquarium is to determine the best conditions for breeding these seahorses. By improving our knowledge of their reproduction we hope to advance our own breeding practices, which in turn may help to improve the current techniques used in seahorse farming.

We have already bred a large number of Estuarine and Tiger-Tailed seahorses. Females appear to be the dominant sex, and they will deposit eggs into their chosen male’s pouch, requiring the males to carry the eggs until the baby seahorses emerge fully developed.

Breeding Seadragons

There are two species of seadragon at S.E.A. Aquarium, the Leafy Seadragon (Phycodurus eques) and the Weedy Seadragon (Phyllopterix taeniolatus). Both species are native to Southern Australian waters, where they inhabit sandy patches close to rocky reefs rich in kelp and algae. Both have tube-like mouths that they use to feed on small shrimp-like animals and other crustaceans.

camouflage-leafy-sea-dragon

With leaf-like lobes of skin distributed around their bodies, Leafy Seadragons represent one of the most spectacular examples of camouflage in the undersea world. Weedy Seadragons have fewer leafy appendages, but they have spots and stripes that break up their outlines. Seadragons are weak swimmers, and they rely heavily on their environment for food and protection. They are under constant threat from human activities such as pollution and fertilizer run-off, and they are also commonly killed during commercial fishing.

In order to increase the success of our seadragon breeding program, we aim to mimic the seasonal changes found in Southern Australian waters. We can achieve this by adjusting water temperature, exposure to light, and by simulating moon cycles. We can also feed our seadragons with live food which replicates their natural diet. Interestingly the males receive the eggs from the females on a special ‘brood patch’ on the underside of their tail, and once the eggs are attached the male fertilizes them and carries them until birth.

Weedy Seadragons have only been bred in a limited number of aquariums worldwide. There are currently no reports of Leafy Seadragons bred under human care, and our team is currently attempting to replicate the precise conditions found in their natural environment in order to develop a successful breeding program.

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