Rare sea horses larvae collected in Abu Dhabi

Spotting sea horses is a rare event in itself. Collecting a specimen sample of sea horse larva is even rarer. However, a sample has just been collected from the waters northeast of Delma Island. The sample was found and collected by experts of the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi’s Marine Environment Research Centre.

The sea horse larval specimen was collected as part of a programme investigating fish reproductive habitats in Abu Dhabi’s waters. This programme will help to protect habitat areas for fish spawning.

About 35 species of seahorses occur around the world, while at least three species occur in the Arabian Gulf area. Seahorses can change colour to match their background and, much like humans, are generally monogamous.

The male and female, in monogamous pairs, will greet one another with courtship displays in the morning and sometimes in the evening to reinforce their pair bond. They spend the rest of the day separate from each other hunting for food. Evidence gathered so far suggests that when seahorses stick with a partner for a while they get better at producing babies as a team.

Seahorses are also notable for being the only species in the world in which males become pregnant. The seahorses display a most extreme example of fatherhood providing the care that we know in the animal world. The males not only take charge of the eggs, they also provide oxygen through a capillary network in the pouch, and they also transfer nutrients. They also control the pouch environment so that it changes during the pregnancy to become more like salt water. The male gives birth to tiny seahorses, some as small as 0.4 in. long.

Seahorses are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation due to low mobility. Import and export of seahorses has been controlled under CITES since 2004. Furthermore, almost all seahorses are listed on the 1996 International Union for the Conservation of Nature "Red List." Recently, seahorses around the world have been specifically targeted as Chinese medicines and aphrodisiacs and also as aquarium fishes. (Emirates News Agency, WAM)