“How could this be a fish?” we ask “Are you sure it’s not a horse?” We suspect it’s wearing a mask…But we know better, of course. The seahorse although small and not easy to find (to date I still have to find one!), is surely one of the most appreciated encounters a diver can make, more so if he is carrying a camera. Recently two examples were sighted on the anchor mid-way to the P29 at Cirkewwa, and the news spread like wildfire among the diving community. I was told that on one day, one had to actually wait for his turn go get an opportunity to photograph them.
Locally, two seahorse (Maltese: Ziemel il-Bahar) species are more likely to be found; the short nosed (hippocampus hippocampus)and the long nosed (hippocampus ramulosus). Seahorses come from the same family as pipefishes (Maltese: Gremxula), and likes to inhabit posedonia patches. Both of these species make use of their unusual shapes to blend into the background. The fact that they are not very mobile, makes them very hard to see, furthermore, Sea Horses use their finless tail to anchor themselves to suitable vegetation, so obviously there is no movement to catch your eye.
In addition, Sea Horses have spike like growths which serve to further break up its outline against the background. Since they do not have a fin at their tail ends, it becomes evident that they are not strong swimmers. In fact they just use their dorsal fin to move, keeping their head steady and looking down, which makes them look like horses more than ever.
The first thing most people mention whenever the subject of sea horses is brought up, is the unusual characteristic of the male giving birth. Actually, the male is just a carrier, since it is the female that lays the eggs in a sort of pouch carried by the male. The eggs develop within the male’s pouch, who when mature, are expelled as fully developed sea horses – in other words, a seahorse is born already a sea horse –and does not go through development stages, as commonly happens with a lot of other marine species. The breeding season is from April to October. Although frequently studied, apparently there is no published data about population or total number of mature animals for these species.
Article written by Edward Vella
Bubbles issue April 2011