by Neil Garrick-Maidment
from the September 2002 issue of Freshwater and Marine Aquarium magazine (FAMA)
At one of the sea life centres a disturbing new fact was laid out with the usual ones about the T.C.M and trinket trade. It stated that for every million seahorses caught for the pet trade only 1000 would live beyond 3 months. This is very disturbing if it is true. Is it??
Sadly the survival rate is true but it is hoped with forums like this and with everyone working together we can all change this. 14 years ago when I started working with Seahorses, there were only one or two of us doing research work on them and it took a while for people to start to talk together about problems they were having but now we are in the great position that with internet discussions groups and people sharing knowledge we are in a position where we can start to increase the life spans and survival rates and stop this terrible situation. I have had seahorses surviving up to 7 years and three months just by keeping them in good quality water and on a good live diet. This will become commonplace in the end but only by working together.
In the last FAMA issue Carol talked about the CITES organization being responsible for protecting seahorses. Can you explain who it is that participates tin this group and how they make this determination of what seahorses will be protected?? Is there anyway that I can have any input?? I am just a hobbyist but I really care about seahorses.
CITES is made up of many representatives from many organizations and Countries (I think 165 at the moment) and they meet up to consider the protection of many species. Data is presented to them for consideration and they then produce a report and this is finally voted on by the whole group. the signatories to CITIES then implement this in each of their countries. At the moment all Seahorse species are being considered for upgrading to appendix 2 on CITIES which means that all trade in Seahorses will be monitored. This has gone to the first stage of being presented to CITIES by Project Seahorse, a report will now be put together to be presented to the full meeting later in the year, if at least two thirds give an overwhelming agreement to it, then it will become law. We can all in theory have an input to this process but it is best done through organizations that can make representations to CITIES.
I heard there was a CITES workshop in the Philippines recently about seahorses, do you know what happened??
Yes, this is the first stage that Neil is referring to above. The CITES workshop on seahorses was held May 27th in the Philippines. The US delegation proposed that all seahorses of the Hippocampus genus to be listed on Appendix II of CITES. This proposal was reviewed by all the delegates attending which included Amanda Vincent with Project Seahorse, Representatives from China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Honk Kong, and many other countries. After reviewing and discussing the proposal ALL delegates agreed to endorse the listing. All delegates agreed that the listing on CITES is the only way to protect the seahorses from further endangerment!!
The proposed listing still must be voted on, as Neil explained, and passed by a 2/3 majority vote, but once this committee has made their recommendation it is unlikely that it will not be voted into law. Even then, it will be sometime before it actually becomes law, but we can all be grateful that the seahorse finally will be protected and hopefully before the trade takes the last ones!!
I was told that in Europe it is illegal to purchase wild caught seahorses
because they are protected by the IUCN. Is this true? What is the IUCN anyways and what do they have to do with seahorses?
the IUCN is The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, they are one of many bodies that have been set up to legislate on the trade and protection of animals. Every country has its own set of laws regarding their wildlife and it does vary from country to country. In the United Kingdom we are in a situation where Seahorses are just being considered for protection under the Wildlife and Countryside for full protection but unfortunately at the moment they are not protected unless they are taken from Eel Grass beds and then they are under the protection that Eel Grass beds are given.
What can I do to help support the protection of the wild populations of seahorses? I certainly do not want to be a part of the problem?
The most immediate thing you can do is buy captive bred animals from organist ions like Ocean Rider, South Australia Seahorse Services, Seahorse Ireland etc.
Other things you can do are help to spread the word about the problems facing seahorses in the wild and in captivity and supports organizations like Project Seahorse and the Seahorse Trust both of which need financial and moral support.
What is the most typical disease of wild caught seahorses? Will they spread to my farm raised seahorses if I keep them in the same tanks?
Wild caught sea horses are most notorious for external parasites such as blood sucking leeches or sea lice. The infection caused by these leeches predisposes the sea horse to infection by a wide variety of pathogens Most Aquatic Veterinarians are absolutely shocked to see the great variety and quantity of these leeches that come in burrowed into the skin of these poor wild caught sea horses. It is much much more than any other type of marine fish. This is mainly because the sea horse is so sessile and do not produce a mucous layer to protect them from nasty critters when they sleep like so many other marine fish. These sea lice create a real head ache for public aquariums that bring in wild caught sea horses for their public displays and I am sure once you understand the life cycle of these nasty critters you will never buy another wild caught sea horse! It is just not worth it!
The problem is that these leeches are very hard to get rid of and they are virtually impossible to see. Not only are they small but also they are well camouflaged by the natural skin patterns of the sea horse. A microscope is a necessity, although some (especially the sexually mature adults) are so big that you can spot them with your naked eye or a hand held magnifying glass.
I talked a little bit about them in the last Horse Forum where I explained that leeches are in the same scientific grouping as copepods, but at the “bad” type.
This is how the bad guys work: The adult male and female usually tend to congregate on the back of the head, behind the gills, behind the dorsal fin, on the neck of the sea horse and behind the anus. The strategy here is to get as close as possible to the blood system. Copulation results in a long egg string which remains attached to the female. Hatching usually takes place in about 10 days. It is important to note the most sea lice can easily adapt to a wide range of temperatures and hosts and that warmer temperatures increase the frequency of egg production and hatching, the number of eggs, and the time to hatching.
There are 11 different life stages including a prolonged “free-swimming” stage , which may last 5- 6 days or more followed by several days in a resting stage where the larvae wait to find their host. The larvae are attracted to aquatic odor trails where they swim to in wait of the fish as they swim by. In the case of the sea horse it is much easier as the sea horse does so much sitting or “hitching” that the parasitic larvae literally only has to pick up the chemical cue and swim over to the sea horse and set up house! If that doesn’t work they will probably be flung into the sea horse with the current!
The next step is easy …they use their appendages (antennae and maxillipeds) to hang on momentarily while they develop an anchoring filament that extends from the larvae into the sub dermal tissue (the skin!) of the seahorse. Nope.. It’s still not over!! The larvae now molts (just like a shrimp) into several “pre-adult” stages and with each molt the animal extends another anchor filament into the sub dermal tissue!! Now that is a lot of anchors!! You can now see why, when the leech finally reaches the adult stage that he is so firmly attached it takes pair of tweezers to pull him or her off the darn sea horse!! This is why fresh water and most chemical dips simply do not work. For sure there are some types of leeches that have week anchors or juvenile anchors that may fall off with the fresh water, but you will not get them all!! And remember it only takes one female with eggs to start a new generation that you will probably never even see! The generation time from egg to adult is about 8 weeks in cool temperatures and much shorter in warm temperatures.
The effect on the sea horse is less activity, less feeding, increase stress level, possible tumor around the wound and possible infection where the wound is causing bacterial and viral infections as well as balance problems and eventual death. What can you do to avoid this process if your wild caught is infected ? Remove the sea horse to a permanent quarantined and isolated hospital tank, disinfect your tank and do not restock it with a wild caught sea horse or one of uncertain health or unknown origin. We will approach the subject of possible treatments next month from chemical to mechanical , but remember that they hardly ever work.
In answer to your question Julie, t is certainly not a good idea to risk exposure and possible death of your farm raised sea horse by stocking wild caughts with your farm raised. If you have already done so and they seem okay hope for the best and observe them carefully being sure not to overcrowd and to keep the tank clean and maintain excellent water quality. Usually the farm-raised specimen is strong and so well fed that they may never be bothered by the sea lice or it may just take a while before they show their ugly heads. Sometimes the process may happen many months after the wild caughts have died and been removed from the tank making it seem like such a mysterious death for the seemingly healthy farm raised seahorse. It may appear to the hobbyist that there is no relationship at all, but behind the scenes, under heavy camouflage, these little beasts are busy at work! So if you want to avoid these beasts the easiest thing to do is stay away from buying those wild caught sea horses!
You mention The Seahorse Trust and Project Seahorse a few times in your replies could you tell me a little about them,
Both organizations have been set up to conserve Seahorses in the wild and captivity. We have had or have captive breeding projects on the go, have set up discussion groups on the Internet and are generally using the Seahorse as a flagship species are working to protect the marine environment.
Where both organizations differ is that The Seahorse Trust works more with non-scientists (although we do a lot of research with scientists as well) and Project Seahorse is very science based. I feel that this compliments each other very well and helps to fill the gap that the other one does not cover. We have worked together on a number of projects such as the internet discussion group “Sygnathidae” which is for professionals, this was set up after a conference held at the Shedd aquarium a few years ago. We also share information about our work.
At present The Seahorse Trust has a number of projects including the building of The National Seahorse Centre here in England, we have the site and the plans drawn up we just need the money to get going, we are also undertaking a project to work with the local fishing fleet to bring conservation and the fishing industry together. Project Seahorse are doing quite a lot of work in the Philippines with the indigenous fishers who collect Seahorses for the Traditional Medicine Trade and the Pet Trade and they are building a great network of researchers.
I would like to thank Neil Garrick-Maidment for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his immense knowledge on the science of sea horse husbandry, natural history and conservation with us over the last 4 issues of Horse Forum. I can hardly wait till next year to hear again from the foremost sea horse expert of the United Kingdom and highly regarded Worldwide authority in this field. In the mean time you can find Neil, the Director of the Seahorse Trust at [email protected] and www.theseahorsetrust.co.uk
I would now like to introduce my next guest speaker, Alisa Abbott! A name I am sure you all are familiar with from the American Sea Horse Hobby!
Alisa Abbott has long been fixture of the seahorse community in the US. She is familiar to hobbyists everywhere through her efforts in support online and off.
Alisa Abbott’s specialty is the dwarf seahorse (Hippocampus zosterae). They are the first seahorses she ever kept, and over the years, she has developed a simple system for keeping and rearing dwarf seahorses successfully. She has written extensively about dwarf seahorses online, and recently completed an aquarist’s guidebook devoted to the care and breeding of these miniature marvels. With several years of experience helping hobbyists and advising aquarists with their seahorse-related problems, who can better answer your questions about dwarf seahorses than the person who literally wrote the book on the subject.
Alisa’s knowledge of seahorses extends to the larger species as well. She has worked with many species and currently keeps several pairs of Ocean Rider seahorses. Alisa enjoys spending her time educating public awareness and understanding about these beautiful creatures.
You will love her style and you will love her sea horse support!!
Aloha and Mahalo,