Sunday, 23 August 2009

Seahorses & Pipefish

I've always loved seahorses - they are beautiful creatures in a wide range of colours, sizes and shapes. When I was doing my Marine Biology degree at Plymouth University my dissertation was on seahorses. I investigated the "stocking density of Knysna Seahorses". Which was much more fun than it sounds. Within China they use seahorses for Chinese medicine treatments and unfortunately many get taken from the wild for this purpose. To stop or change a cultures tradition is often impossible, naive and takes a very long time. If alternative options can be found in the short term then this is a great interim solution. So they were trying to encourage the captive breeding of seahorses in places like the Phillipines. As with any farming there is a key stocking density which ends up with lowest morbidity rates and highest fecundity rates...or in plain English the best numbers to keep animals so that you don't end up with deaths and they are happy enough to have babies.

So I had 140 baby Knysna seahorses at the National Marine Aquarium which I lovingly reared in 6 tanks with 10 in 2, 20 in 2, 40 in another 2 tanks and waited to see what happened. It meant that I had the pleasure of coming in every day to take a look in at these beautiful creatures - clean their tanks and have lovely one way conversations with them. It gave me the opportunity to watch the other resident seahorses too.

Early in the morning the paired up seahorses would start their beautiful courtship ritual and dance and flutter their fins at each other. It is one of the most beautiful spectacles to be seen. The best thing about this courtship ritual is that you know at the end that it is the male that carries the eggs full term and gives birth to the babies - hurrah!! This surely must be the most evolutionary advanced of all creatures? The female lays the eggs in the male pouch and there he fertilizes them - ensuring he is the father of his brood. Then - I have witnessed this first hand - tiny little miniature forms of the parents shoot out of the pouch into the water - a truly amazing spectacle.

So it may surprise some to know that there are not only seahorses in British waters - although hard to find and relatively rare. But their cousins, the pipefish, are found on most rocky shores although tricky to locate as they look so similar to the stems of the wrack seaweeds. But today we found several pipefish and had the opportunity to admire their snouty noses and beautiful fins oscillating in the water. There's been quite a few Learn To Sea events since the last blog and all have gone down well and as we near the end of the Summer season it is sad to think I won't be spending so much time with my intertidal friends. There has been some great feedback and I've had some very kind remarks from visitors -

"My son thoroughly enjoyed the experience -in fact this is is his 2nd go."

"I'm now converted to rockpooling"

"Well done Maya an interesting and informative talk"

and in a lovely email...

"We joined you for a rockpooling session on the 25th July and would just like to say what a wonderful time we had and how informative you were and the way you brought that knowledge across to children and adults alike.

Also whilst on this holiday the children spotted you on the news talking about the Portuguese Man of War which made them even more excited to know they had been in the presence of a real tv star, especially after your appearance on Springwatch...Thanks again for a great time and definitely will be booking up again when we are able to get away from Sussex and down to Devon"