What an amazing summer we have had researching European seahorses at Seahorse City!
Our total count in the seahorse photobase is now 54 individuals identified, with 26 of those being new discoveries this season. 5 Hippocampus hippocampus and 11 Hippocampus guttulatus returned to our study area to breed, one pair for the third year running. Of the new seahorses found this year, 16 were H. guttulatus females.
Volunteer research divers at Seahorse City have set several records this summer in terms of the numbers of seahorses found per survey and also the unusual nature of some individuals or behaviour observed:
- First black seahorse
- First one-eyed seahorse
- First inter-species mating filmed*
- First data on breeding cycles
- First data on synchronised breeding between two pairs living 45 meters apart
- Smallest individual
- Smallest pregnant male
*That was a big surprise as there is little known about this phenomenon and also because the pair were known from 2014 when they were definately not a couple.
Our one-eyed seahorse, Beauty, is doing well and is seen regularly. However, she is not alone. Another one-eyed individual was found, and named Jack. He has been breeding with Blondie, who was first seen in 2014, and we were able to monitor two of his pregnancies and also film them mating. Quite a few eggs were lost, as he is smaller than her, as you can see in this photo by volunteer Jasmine Corbett, but during the peak breeding season they were mating every 16 days!
One-eyed Jack has a normal colouration and I recently found another black individual, who I named Zebra due to his whitish stripes, that has both eyes. Therefore, Beauty is probably naturally black, rather than changing due to stress, which is good.
We have continued to share our data with The Seahorse Trust (as a member of the Seahorse Alliance) and with Project Seahorse. Both organisations have been impressed with the quantity and quality of our observations as citizen scientists. In fact, the Seahorse Project is the only seahorse research group to contribute a whole year of data to the Project Seahorse world-wide database using their Trends Toolkit.
Although many volunteers have been marine biology students enjoying affordable work experience, regular divers with good buoyancy skills and a keen eye have been just as successful in spotting seahorses.
For example, Chris, from Belgium, spotted the tiniest male - who turned out to be the smallest found to be pregnant. Another great example is Louise, who found a seahorse in a totally different location whilst surveying bryozoans for our Silmar Project research.
Volunteers who find a new seahorse are rewarded by choosing its name. We now have seahorses named after most of our volunteers, their relatives, and even a beloved pet!