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Overview

Brief Summary

Sea horses are related to the pipefish. This strange fish, no longer than 15 centimeters, lives between eelgrass and seaweed, which it grips with its tail. Sea horses eat mainly small crustaceans and fish larvae. The eggs of sea horses are carried by the males in a pouch. Sea horses live mostly in the Mediterranean Sea, but have found more often in recent years in the Wadden Sea as well.
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Comprehensive Description

Biology

Inhabits dense, complex habitats as well as patchy, relatively open and sparse habitats of coastal areas. Found on soft bottoms amongst rocks and algae (Ref. 6733), on sparsely vegetated areas, and in coastal lagoons with strong oceanic influences (Refs. 52034, 89230). Mimics the green or yellow coloration of plants allowing it to hide among the vegetation. This ability likely plays a role in seahorse feeding strategy and in predator avoidance (Ref. 52034). Makes limited daily movements within very restricted home ranges (0.7-18.1 m2) (Refs. 52034, 89256). May over-winter in deeper water. (Ref. 53712). Adult dispersal over large distances is probably caused by strong wave action during storms or when it anchors itself to floating debris (Ref. 52034).Is thought to live for 3-5 years (Ref. 52034). Because of its short generation time and multiple breeding cycles during each spawning season, resilience is thought to be high. However, in tropical areas where seagrass beds are regularly exploited for other species of seahorses for the aquarium trade, traditional medicine, etc., populations have been quickly eradicated (Ref. 89253). Feeds on small prey and organic debris. Has been reared in captivity (Ref. 35416).
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Description

 The seahorse has a very distinctive shape with the head set at an angle to the body. The trunk of the body is short and rather fat whilst the tail is tapering, curled and prehensile. Hippocampus hippocampus can be up to 15 cm in length. The snout is short and upturned, and less than one third the length of the head. There is a prominent spine above each eye. The dorsal fin has 16-18 rays, usually with a dark stripe running parallel to the margin. The pectoral fins have 13-15 rays. Body rings carry bony tubercles, giving a knobbly, angular appearance. The body is variable in colour: brown, orange, purple or black, sometimes with pale blotches.

Hippocampus hippocampus is one of two species of seahorses found in the British Isles, the other is Hippocampus guttulatus, which has a longer snout and elongated protuberances along the back of the neck, giving the impression of a 'horses mane'.

The exact size and distribution of the population of seahorses around the British Isles is not known at present. The British Seahorse survey is collating records currently and can be found at:www.britishseahorsesurvey.org. 

Please note: the biology of seahorses is poorly known and little information on Hippocampus hippocampus was found. Therefore, the following review is based in part on reviews of the biology of seahorses by Vincent (1996), Garrick-Maidment (1997) and Lourie et al, (1999). See also the British Seahorse Survey Report 2004 (Garrick-Maidment & Jones, 2004).

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Distribution

Eastern Atlantic: British Isles and Wadden Sea southward to the Gulf of Guinea, the Azores (Ref. 89254), Canary Islands (89255) and along the African coast to Guinea. Also in the Mediterranean (89253). International trade is monitored through a licensing system (CITES II, since 5.15.04) and a minimum size of 10 cm applies. Listed in Appendix II (Mediterranean) of the Bern Convention (2002) and in Appendix II (as Hippocampus spp.) at CITES (2009).
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Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, eastern Atlantic: Bay of Biscay to Gulf of Guinea, including Madeira.
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Northeastern Atlantic Ocean: North Sea to English Channel.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Dorsal spines (total): 0; Dorsal soft rays (total): 1619
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Size

Maximum size: 150 mm TL
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Max. size

15.0 cm TL (male/unsexed; (Ref. 6733))
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Diagnostic Description

Description (based on 35 specimens): Adult height: 7.0-13.0cm. Rings: 11 + 37 (35-38). Snout length: 3.0 (2.8-3.4) in head length. Dorsal fin rays: 17 (16-19) covering 2+1 rings. Pectoral fin rays: 14 (13-15). Coronet: narrow, ridge-like and joined smoothly to nape of neck, or wedge-shaped (front narrow, back high and broad); some specimens with very large angular coronet (especially specimens from West Africa). Spines: low, very low in adults. Other distinctive characters: very short snout (usually less than 1/3 head length) that is slightly upward-bent; prominent eye spine. Color pattern: mottled brown to yellow, to maroon and rust (Refs. 52034, 89230); also orange, purple or black; sometimes with tiny white dots, but these do not coalesce into thick horizontal wavy lines as in H. guttulatus.
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Type Information

Paratype for Hippocampus hippocampus
Catalog Number: USNM 93217
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Collector(s): Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
Locality: La Rochelle, France, France, Bay of Biscay, Atlantic
  • Paratype:
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Type for Hippocampus hippocampus
Catalog Number: USNM 28544
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Fishes
Collector(s): Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris
Locality: La Rochelle, France, France, Atlantic
  • Type:
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Hippocampus hippocampus are mostly found inhabiting small home ranges in shallow coastal waters, lagoon systems and estuaries at depths of one to 55 m (Curtis and Vincent 2005, Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Woodall 2009), but there may be seasonal migration to deeper waters (Boisseau 1967, Garrick-Maidment 2007, Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004). Adult H. hippocampus use varied habitats of all sediment types, and in addition are often observed on artificial structures using them as holdfasts (Curtis and Vincent 2005, Franco et al. 2006, Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Woodall 2009).

In the Ria Formosa adult H. hippocampus are associated with habitats of low complexity, including sand and shell fragments (Curtis and Vincent 2005). However this species is seen in different habitats in other locations (Garrick-Maidment and Jones 2004, Woodall 2009). As an ambush predator H. hippocampus has a wide dietary range, which mainly comprises Amphipoda, Anmura, and Mysidacae and (Kitsos et al. 2008) and thus is associated with highly productive habitats.

Hippocampus hippocampus are seasonal breeders, breeding from April to October (Foster and Vincent 2004). Mating is temperature limited and gestation period is around a month (Boisseau 1967). Juvenile H. hippocampus (<87 mm) are rarely observed during surveys (Curtis and Vincent 2006, Woodall 2009). They spend the first weeks of life as plankton, but nothing more is known about them until recruitment at 62mm (Curtis and Vincent 2005).

Hippocampus hippocampus adults have low dispersal and limited migration. This reduces their ability to colonize new areas, recolonize old ones, and in addition reduces their ability to move when habitat become unfavourable (J. Curtis pers. comm. 2012). Most seahorses are monogamous, at least within a breeding season (Foster and Vincent 2004). This may reduce their reproductive potential if their partner was removed from the population (e.g., caught). However H. hippocampus matures at an early age, has rapid growth rates, and a short generation time, which suggests that it has reasonable potential to recover rapidly after direct (e.g. exploitation) and indirect (e.g., by-catch and habitat damage) effects of disturbance cease, but may be vulnerable to extended periods of poor recruitment (J. Curtis pers. comm. 2012).

Systems
  • Marine
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Environment

demersal; non-migratory; marine; depth range ? - 60 m (Ref. 52034)
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Depth range based on 1 specimen in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 1 sample.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 52 - 52
  Temperature range (°C): 17.167 - 17.167
  Nitrate (umol/L): 0.926 - 0.926
  Salinity (PPS): 37.537 - 37.537
  Oxygen (ml/l): 5.289 - 5.289
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.112 - 0.112
  Silicate (umol/l): 3.150 - 3.150
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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 Found in shallow muddy waters, in estuaries or inshore amongst seaweed and seagrasses, clinging by the tail or swimming upright. Hippocampus hippocampus can also be found in rocky areas.
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Trophic Strategy

Occurs mostly in shallow inshore waters among algae (Ref. 6733). May over-winter in deeper water. It is primarily an ambush predator, but also actively hunts for planktonic and epibenthic prey; feeds also on organic debris (Ref. 89230).
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Life History and Behavior

Life Cycle

Ovoviviparous, with the female depositing eggs into the male brood pouch. During the mating season, mature males and females have been observed to change hue, i.e., become brighter, when greeting, courting, or mating (Ref. 88171). Newly hatched young are thought to have a planktonic stage that lasts at least eight weeks (Refs. 47822, 52034).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Hippocampus hippocampus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 1
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
DD
Data Deficient

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
Woodall, L.

Reviewer/s
Wiswedel, S., Correia, M. & Foster, S.

Contributor/s

Justification
Hippocampus hippocampus retains its 2003 classification of Data Deficient.

There is some evidence for a large (73%) decrease in population census size from one location (Ria Formosa, Portugal) (Curtis & Vincent 2005, Caldwell and Vincent 2012), but a lack of reliable survey data in many parts of this species' range means that no consistent trends have been observed across the species' range. Thus, based on a lack of data the extinction risk of this species cannot be reliably categorised on a global level.

Urgent population assessments and long term monitoring programs across its geographic range are required to assess the extinction risk of this species. In addition there is, at present, no no data as to the extent populations are exploited in Africa. Current research ongoing in West Africa will hopefully elucidate this situation.

History
  • 2003
    Data Deficient
  • 1996
    Vulnerable
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Population

Population
Generally seahorse density is patchy (Foster and Vincent 2004) and at most locations they are rare, but can be abundant locally (Curtis and Vincent 2005, Woodall 2009). Where data are available, seahorse populations appear to be declining (Foster and Vincent 2004, Vincent et al. 2011).

There is no global estimate of Hippocampus hippocampus population size and no global assessment of population trends. However there are two locations where long-term datasets are available.

In the Ria Formosa, Portugal, H. hippocampus exhibited a 73% decrease (I. Caldwell, Project Seahorse, pers. comm.) between 2002 and 2008. More recent surveys at this location reveal that the population size is possibly increasing again (M. Correia pers. comm.) No cause for the population change has been confirmed, but benthic macrofauna changes recorded in the area have been shown as a result of anthropogenic stressors (Gamito 2008) and this could be related to the declines in seahorses.

In the Arcachon Basin (France), interviews suggest that the population distribution is very patchy, but to date no trend has been established due to lack of consistent data collection (Grima 2011).

Anecdotal evidence is available in other locations, however exhaustive surveys and systematic data collection did not occur at these sites. In Mar Menor (Spain), Voiotias (Greece) and the Canary Islands, the population size of H. hippocampus has fluctuated greatly each year (anecdotal evidence compiled by L. Woodall. Project Seahorse). In other coastal sites populations have both decreased (Badalona, Spain- J. Ortiz, in. litt.; Malaga, Spain- P. Cabrera, in. litt.) and increased (La Herradura, Spain- P. Cabrera in. litt.).

No estimates of population trends are available outside of European waters, but trade research presently being carried out in West Africa may elucidate the situation.

Population Trend
Unknown
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Threats

Major Threats
The major continuing threat to Hippocampus hippocampus is assumed to be similar to that for Hippocampus guttulatus, which is habitat degradation and disturbance through direct anthropogenic activities such as coastal developments and the effect of fishing gear (e.g. trawls and dredges) (Caldwell and Vincent 2012). As it is a shallow coastal species it is extremely susceptible to anthropogenic activities. Habitat degradation through climate change continues across H. hippocampus geographic range, and H. hippocampus, like other small coastal fish, is also threatened by pollution from shore side run-off and ships (Islam and Tanaka 2004).

In addition H. hippocampus is taken in parts of its range as accidental bycatch from fisheries are sold as curiosities or into the live aquarium fish trade (see 'Use and trade').
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Data deficient (DD)
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The entire genus Hippocampus was listed in Appendix II of CITES in November 2002 with implementation of the listing in 2004. This means that countries who are signatories to CITES are subject to regulations on the export of seahorses. Countries are required to provide permits for all exports of seahorses and are meant to provide evidence that these exports are not detrimental to wild populations. However a lack of basic information on distribution, habitat and abundance means many CITES Authorities cannot assess sustainability of their seahorse exploitation and meet their obligations to the Convention. This species is also listed under OSPAR, European CITES (Curd 2009), the Bern Convention and the Barcelona Convention (Abdul Malak et al. 2011).

Regionally, it is listed as Near Threatened in the Mediterranean (Abdul Malak et al. 2011) and Data Deficient in Croatia (Jardas et al. 2007). Hippocampus hippocampus is protected by the UK Wildlife and Countryside Act of 2008 (DEFRA 2008) and is a UK Biodiversity Action Plan priority species (JNCC 2010).

Further research on this species biology, ecology, habitat, abundance and distribution is needed. Long-term monitoring is required for this species across its geographic range focusing on population trends, harvest level trend and habitat trends.
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Importance

fisheries: minor commercial; aquarium: show aquarium; price category: unknown; price reliability:
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Wikipedia

Short-snouted seahorse

The short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus, is a species of seahorse in the family Syngnathidae. It is endemic to the Mediterranean Sea and parts of the North Atlantic, particularly around Italy and the Canary Islands. Colonies of the species have recently been discovered in the River Thames around London and Southend-on-Sea.[3]

Their preferred habitat is shallow muddy waters, estuaries or seagrass beds.[3]

Protection

In the United Kingdom they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

References

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