Reply to Leo’s Seahorse Post

September 26, 2010

This is also posted as a comment under Leo’s post, but I didn’t think anyone would see it there.

The Lined-Seahorse is one of my favorite animals. I caught a pregnant male at The River Project at Pier 40 this summer (below: Munch the seahorse).

The scientific name is actually the Hippocampus erectus, not hudsonius though. That is a historical error because the northern and southern species were thought to be different species, but they’re the same. Hippocampus erectus’ range is from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico and Argentina, and they come to the Hudson to breed. They are the most graceful, interesting creatures. Seahorses are actually boney fish, which surprised me for some reason I didn’t really think of them as fish. A close relative of seahorses are pipefish, which have similar pointed mouths that they use to hunt amphipods like seahorses. Both are able to change their coloring to match their environment. I saw our seahorses change from a dark brownish to a lighter yellowish when we changed the color of the rope. Seahorses disappeared from the Hudson about 60 years or so ago but reappeared 10-20 years ago after the Clean Water Act of 1972.

A sad side story:
At TRP the seahorses and pipefish are kept in the same tank because their needs are nearly identical. They both eat amphipods (tiny shrimp-like; will eat frozen mysis shrimp in captivity) and both are poor swimmers that like to hold onto things–ropes, pipes, any structure they can wrap their tails around or hide in. So one day we caught about 5 juvenile pipefish and put them into the tank. TRP does not have enough staff or funding to quarantine fish/animals they way you’re supposed to before introducing them to the rest of the population. One or all of the new pipefish had a bacterial infection. These infections are very easy to spread amongst other individuals in the tank, especially at high temperatures. The temperature of the Hudson reached upwards of 80 degrees and ALL of the seahorses and pipefish caught the Vibrio. The seahorses died (one large female and two small females) and about 10 pipefish were seriously affected and 5 or more died. I ended up learning a lot about bacterial infections of fish (that can actually be given to humans through open cuts or consuming them). This particular infection was a Vibrio bacterial infection that can be internal, in which it affects the swim bladder of the fish and the fish/seahorse cannot position itself on the bottom or in the water column they way it usually would. It is also known as the flesh-eating bacteria, self explanatory. All of the pipefish floated to the top and the ones that didn’t die were drying on one side or had lesions on their bodies. We were able to remedy the remaining survivors after some research. We put them into a clean tank and gave them the appropriate chemicals/medicine in their water. It was amazing to me that there was a such thing as fish medicine. Sadly, though we lost all of our seahorses which were more sensitive to this infection.

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