Asian Diver (English)
BORN TO BE WILD
In a world first, a researcher films a seahorse giving birth in its natural habitat
THEY SAY THAT good things come to those who wait. But after what happened in December last year, I’d say that some really cool things happen to those who are in the right place at the right time.
As part of my graduate work with Project Seahorse, a marine conservation group, I was doing research on White’s seahorses (Hippocampus whitei) and their habitats near Port Stephens in New South Wales, Australia.
On my team’s fourth day of diving, we encountered a very pregnant male seahorse clinging to some seagrass. As I measured him, I noticed that a tiny tail was sticking out of his brood pouch. Now, for those who aren’t familiar with how seahorses reproduce, it’s the males who carry, nourish, and give birth to the young. The female deposits her eggs in the brood pouch, the male fertilises them, and a few weeks later he gives birth – in the case of White’s seahorses, about three weeks. It’s incredibly rare to see in the wild.
And that’s what was happening now. A baby seahorse shoots out of the male’s pouch. Then another, and another. Ten tiny but perfectly formed seahorses, probably part of a much larger brood. They soon drifted away into the seagrass and just like that the spectacle was over. Luckily, we’d been filming the whole time as part of our research.
It’s pretty cool to be a part of something so rare, and when Meagan (my research assistant who shot the footage) and I stopped filming, we high-fived and headed to the surface. We’d not only seen a wild birth with our own eyes, we’d filmed it! We were positively beaming.
Seahorses are iconic marine species for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it is the males that give birth. They are becoming more and more difficult to find in the wild, but luckily, Australia is quite strong on marine conservation issues. We would have been much less likely to find seahorses in certain other areas of the world, where overfishing, pollution, and other human activities are a problem. I’m studying how habitat quality affects the growth and survival of seahorses. My work will help conservationists and resource managers around the world to make better decisions about how to protect seahorse populations and their shallow seas habitats.
We hope our seahorse conservation work ultimately means that videos and aquariums aren’t the only ways people will encounter these unique creatures in the future.