We don’t throw words like ‘cute’ around often here at Reef Builders, but when we do you better believe we mean it. When you look at these images of Bargibant’s pygmy sea horses (Hippocampus bargibanti) you are instantly captivated but when you hear the story behind it, you have to be in awe.
Our friends Rich Ross and Matt Wandell at the Steinhart Aquarium in the California Academy of Sciences are working on successfully breeding these seahorses in captivity for the first time and are just smashing it. What started as a challenge to raise a specific coral for three years led to collecting a pair during a recent expedition to the Philippines and eventually successful breeding in captivity.
Living in and off of a sea fern Murciella paraplectana, the tiny, orange seahorse not only uses this coral for shelter but for food as well. When Ross and Wandell first explored rearing these creatures in captivity for the first time ever, their boss at the aquarium challenged them to keep the non-photosynthetic coral (NPS) alive for three years first, then he would see about letting them attempt to raise these fascinating creatures.
Three years passed after the duo never gave up and in May, Wandell was able to collect the specimens near the Verde Island passage, about 80 miles south of Manila what is often dubbed the “center of the center” of marine biodiversity. The team had to get permits from the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Philippine government and the local mayor before they could ship their cargo home.
The pair no resides in the Aquatic Holding Room behind the scenes at the aquarium where they have successfully paired and mated the pygmy seahorses three times already. As they finesse the rearing process, the team plans on eventually showcases the animals in a display as well as sharing the offspring with other research facilities to start breeding programs of their own.