Ibiza is an underwater paradise thanks to Posidonia, a marine plant from the Mediterranean Sea. The Posidonia is responsible for Ibiza having amazing and crystalline waters of different shades, mainly turquoise tones. In it we can find multiple infinite beauties, a clear example is the fascinating seahorse. Here, in the Mediterranean, the most common species that we can find are two: Hippocampus guttulatus and Hippocampus hippocampues, and to be able to appreciate them you will have to immerse yourself in the great blue.
Today we will talk about seahorses. Also known as hippocampi, a term that refers to its scientific name «Hippo campus«, which comes from the combination of two ancient Greek words: «hippos» which means horse and «kampos» which means sea monster. The horses appear to be fragile, delicate, and enigmatic, however, for the Greeks and Romans the horses represented strength and power. Stories inspired by its shape, that elegant fusion between a fish and a horse, capable of riding on the waves, and they were in charge of pulling the chariot of the god of the sea known as Poseidon or Neptune.
This enigmatic animal is a very peculiar fish with a unique biology and behaviour in the animal kingdom, and belongs to the family of Syngnathidae, a word that means fused jaw.
There are many characteristics that make these small marine animals unique in nature and despite being classified as fish and living in water, due to the shape of their body, they are poor swimmers and move slowly and gracefully. The reduced swimming capacity of these fish is due to a series of limitations imposed by the characteristics of their fins, they lack a caudal fin and ventral fin. So, the fins that take centre stage in their swimming are the dorsal, which propels them forward, and the pectorals to turn right or left. Many of them even die of exhaustion when they are caught in strong ocean currents. For this reason, they prefer to anchor with their prehensile tails to Posidonia or to corals and algae.
Although there are more than 40 species of seahorses (14 of them discovered in the last 8 years), and despite being an icon of the rich biodiversity of our oceans, many aspects of these animals are unknown.
Seahorses are one of Mother Nature’s most curious creatures. There are different sizes, between a centimetre and a half and 35 centimetres, there are also different colours, especially red, orange, yellow, green or gray. They also have stripes or dots, with long or short snouts and can even change their colour to camouflage themselves and go unnoticed by their enemies.
These wonderful animals feed on live prey, but, because they are very slow, they developed their own method of capture. The eyes, located on each side of the face, can look in different directions and independently, having an almost complete vision of what is happening around them, this allows it to locate prey more easily. But their secret weapon consists of millimetre-accurate suction due to the lack of teeth. A planktonic organism swimming within a four-centimetre radius of the elongated snout will be sucked into the tubed mouth with such speed that it is impossible to escape. But this suction is only effective at short distances, if they must move to get food, they prefer to wait for an easier-to-catch bite to pass.
A juvenile seahorse feeds for a period of ten hours a day, during which time it consumes more than 3,600 young of tiny crustaceans and zooplankton.
There are stories that say that seahorses once they find a mate they no longer detach from her. This has caused them to be seen as the symbol of love, romance, and togetherness. They even said that, if they were separated, their partner would die of loneliness.
But this is far from the truth….
His docile appearance is deceptive. In the mating season, the rivalry between males and females becomes evident, both sexes compete to mate, they resort to force, even violence to drive away their competitors.
Seahorses, along with pipefish, are the only creatures in the animal world whose males carry out the pregnancy.
First the meeting occurs, where they fall in love, the female and the male will begin a beautiful mating dance that is very slow and full of caresses where they seem to merge into an embrace. Both floating with their tails entwined.
The male is responsible for fertilizing the eggs and will incubate them for a period of two months. So, if you see a seahorse with a slightly larger abdominal area, it is probably a pregnant dad.
The female only limits herself to depositing her eggs in a tiny hole in the incubator bag that the male has at the front of his tail and then he will move away from her forever.
Labour lasts several hours and can even last up to 2 days, when the time comes, the male’s body begins with convulsive movements and contracts intermittently. The seahorse begins to expel the young in isolation and in a group, giving birth to several dozen tiny baby seahorses that barely reach ten millimetres.
Once the delivery is over, the father will abandon his children to their fate but not before devouring some of them if they remain within his reach.
The baby horses, from their birth, are totally independent beings and many of them are part of the plankton. The little ones that manage to survive will reach sexual maturity at just 3 months of age and their life expectancy will be only one to four years.
These creatures are some of the most beautiful and fascinating in nature, but they are seriously threatened. Today her fragile and delicate figure is at serious risk of disappearing from our seas and oceans. It is estimated that each year more than 30 million horses are uprooted from their natural habitat and this population decline is directly related to the market for oriental medicine, believing that dried and powdered they cure various diseases.
That is why it is very important to implement marine conservation measures. For example, like the one implemented in Sydney where Sydney Harbour researchers have built so-called «hotels for seahorses» under water, with the aim of restoring their habitat and promoting their reproduction. Wanting to achieve two things with this project: first, to be able to raise these animals in an aquarium and release them in the wild. And second, that hotels for seahorses provide them with a suitable habitat.
As divers and citizens involved in nature conservation, we must take advantage of any moment to care for, protect and observe our nature.
Now I would like to invite you to dive with me, but first I want to tell you about my first time, the first time I saw a seahorse. After having dived in many seas, and having more than 2000 dives, it was here in the calm and crystal-clear waters of Ibiza that I saw it for the first time.
That morning, I remember that it was my turn to lead the group that came to dive. I also remember that an Open Water alumnus came after a long time, now an excellent Rescue Diver, to share bubbles with us again.
We were diving in an islet called Malvin Sur, just 8 minutes from the SCUBA IBIZA Diving Centre. We were observing the wonders that this dive site offers us, when suddenly I saw something intense yellow, which stood out above the rest of the colours, I approached very slowly to see what it was. As you know, many of the animals that we see underwater have their specific signal, and in this way, we communicate underwater to be able to identify them and communicate with other divers. Well, due to the emotion I did not remember a signal (I think I did not know if there was one either) so I began to make signals with the flashlight and rang my «shaker» to get the attention of my companions so that they could appreciate such a wonder. From that day on I fell in love with this majestic animal. There he was with the graceful figure of him waiting for those with cameras to photograph him.
On the other hand, I never dive with a camera, so I just stood there contemplating it. But at the end of the day, the former student who accompanied me gave me the best photo of all, which I keep with great affection.
I would like very much that you too can live this wonderful experience, here in Ibiza. Although it is not easy to see them, we know some of their locations.
If you ever find a seahorse while diving or snorkeling, don’t let the emotion overwhelm you because the observation of these fragile animals must be very delicate and careful. Be careful with the underwater tourches shining directly into the eyes of the animal. Be careful with the fins and buoyancy because in the area there may be more specimens that we do not see because they are camouflaged among the algae and, of course, do not touch the horse or the algae that surround it. They are so delicate that with a simple movement you can hurt them and if they feel bothered, they can leave their resting place and we run the risk of separating a couple or exposing them to their predators.
Observe the oceans, fix your gaze on the sea, feel it, breathe … they provide us with half the oxygen we breathe … where legends come to life and reality becomes a fable. Unknown worlds, unknown stories, only guarded by a raging and defenceless sea.
- National Geographic España
- Documental: El desconocido mundo de los signátidos.
- Diario Perfil.
- Diario El Mundo