Seahorses are a bony marine fish with gills, a skeleton made of
bony plates covered by a thin skin (but no scales) with fins to move them. They belong to a family of fish called Syngnathidae which includes pipefish, pipe horses, and sea dragons.
There are about 40 species of seahorse worldwide, mainly found in coastal areas, bays and estuaries from Norway to Tasmania and New Zealand. They are poor swimmersand are usually ffound resting, with their prehensile tails wound around a stationary object. They have long snouts, which they use to suck up food, and eyes that can move independently of each other. Seahorses eat small shrimp, tiny fish and plankton
floating in the water or crawling on the bottom.
The male seahorse has a brood pouch on the front-facing side. When mating, the female seahorse places up to 1,000 the eggs in the male's pouch, these are then internally fertilized. The male carries the eggs for about two months until they emerge as fully developed, miniature seahorses. The father continues to protect the young until they are able to live on their own, however they have been known to eat a few offspring while at it.
Seahorses may have been endangered in recent years by overfishing and habitat destruction. The seahorse is used in traditional Chinese medicine, and as many as 20 million seahorses may be caught in the wild each year for this. They are also very popular in marine aquaria and are often dried for use as for ornaments and souvenirs. In 2004 they were added to Appendix II of the United Nations Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means that now, in 160 countries, only captive-bred seahorses can be bought and sold.
There are farms in Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia.
Seahorse Australia was established in 1998 at Beauty Point Tasmania. It was one of the first commercial seahorse farms in the world.
600 breeding stock of the attractive Tasmanian variety of the Australian Pot-bellied seahorse were collected from Tasmania waters under permits from the State and Federal Governments.
Experimentation over the next couple of years helped determine the best husbandry systems for the species. A high level of breeding success has been achieved and a reliable supply of quality seahorses known as Southern Knights was first offered to the aquarium market in 2001. Apart from their popularity in Australia, the seahorses have been sent to many countries around the world including the USA, Canada, Germany, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Italy. They now farm four species of seahorse which are sold from $32 to $65 each..
Captive breeding programs such as that at Seahorse Australia will help to ease the pressure on wild populations and has helped in public education about seahorses.