The long-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus reidi (greek: horse/sea monster), which shares the family Syngnathidae with pipefish, is found from Brazil to North Carolina.
It can be found in floating sargassum, on gorgonians, in mangroves, and in seagrasses to a maximum depth of 160 feet. It can reach a length of 9 inches and can change colour, displaying black, brown, yellow and red hues, and even appearing spotted.
Seahorses are ambush predators, slurping up unsuspecting small fish and crustaceans. Movement is limited, as their bodies are heavily armoured with just the tiny dorsal and pectoral fins undulating.
They can live to be four years old, and are pair-bonded, exhibiting highly structured social behavior and vital parental care; particularly the male. The female inserts up to 1,600 eggs in the male’s pouch, which then seals during development. In about two weeks, eggs hatch, releasing perfect miniatures. This cycle can be repeated every 30 days throughout most of the year.
Seahorses have very few natural predators, thankfully, but are threatened in other ways. Since 2004, humans have made sure they remain listed by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. They are killed as bycatch in shrimp trawl fisheries, traded and collected in the Americas as aquarium fishes (one large pair can fetch $350!), used in folk medicine, kept as curiosities, and are even considered trendy Asian food. Shallow water habitats like mangroves and seagrass beds are also being degraded, causing further problems.
It is painfully obvious there is a dearth of knowledge concerning the abundance and distribution of these curious-looking creatures, which are always a rare treat for anyone lucky enough to spot them in the wild.
Tom Byrnes is the owner/operator of Cayman Marine Lab. He acquired his Coast Guard Captain’s Licence when he was a teenager and worked as a commercial fisherman in his youth. He got his first diving certificate in 1974 with the YMCA. He has worked in the local dive industry for more than 35 years and has a PhD in Marine Biology.