The Seahorse

6 Jun

This is an older story, over the next few weeks I’m going to be out of town so there will probably be a lot of these.  You don’t like it? STFU ;).

The Seahorse

“You’re better off swimming across the channel and dropping into the other side” one of my friends from another aquarium commented. I take a look out and damn thats past mid channel. That means I have to swim across and dodge boats and thats a pretty far swim. I look at my buddy and he nods so we jump off the dock and start kicking. Once I got to the other side I take navigation readings on my compass and start letting the air out of my bouyancy compensator, the steady hissing is the last thing I hear as the cold water covers my head and I start my decent. Underwater I peg the bottom at about fifteen feet, visibility is really crappy, about five feet or less. I check my gauges and start kicking while scanning the bottom.

If you’ve never scuba dove before its absolutely awesome. Not as cool as freediving (can you tell I’m biased?), but it’s pretty damn cool.  It’s like flying underwater. In good conditions you can see practically forever, but today it was all work, five minutes into the dive and I’m alarmed that my air on my pressure gauge is dropping faster than it should be. I listen carefully and I hear a hiss above my head. Cranning my neck upwards I see a small steady stream of bubbles careening over my head. “Dammit” I swear silently. Im by myself in almost zero visibility with scattered boat traffic overhead. The only thing to do is take off my vest and try to correct the problem. Yeah  seems simple if you’ve never done it!  The thing you breathe out of is connected to your tank which is on your back. You have a weightbelt that keeps you sinking. If you drop that backpack, your tank floats away and you sink and drown. So carefully I check it out while keeping a G.I. Joe death grip on my regulator and determine I can’t fix it underwater. Oh wells you only live once! I untangle the seemingly medusa like hoses and put things together the best I can underwater. As I calm myself and start kicking away I see a whole new world. Around me are sponges of varying colors. First I see red ones, then green and even yellow. It looked like a underwater flower garden. Every few feet sting rays would kick themselves up out of the sand and swim away. Strange halibut and other flat fish would look at me with their two eyes and flap around. As I kick looking for specimens I see two eyes appear out of a hole and then suddenly disappear. I creep up on the broken shells and fragments surrounding the hole and I peer inside and see a mudflat octopus peering back at me. I playfully put my finger in the hole and he grabs it and pushes it out. I laugh and look upwards. In the dim light I can see schools of small bait fish swim about and larger bass lazily chase them. colorful snails, purple, orange, and red crawl about the bottom looking for food. I see two antennae sticking up from the rocks and peer inside and see two lobsters nervously looking back at me. But the steady hissing of my tank brings me back to reality, Ive got about ten minutes left if I breathe slowly. I tilt my mask back to clear the water out of it and then look around. And then i see it. It can’t be….? Can it? I kick forwards and look in disbelief. nah… its not??? Wait…NO WAY! I still cant believe my eyes, but swaying in front of me is the holy grail of our collection efforts. It’s is a pacific seahorse, Hippocampus ingens. I am totally stunned, this species is one of the largest seahorses in the world and the one I was looking at was huge. It was an adult male, about eight inches long at least. He turned and looked at me and I saw why I didnt see him before. seahorses are a master of camoflauge and they blend in well with their surroundings, this particular one was a beautiful red. I carefully slipped my collection jar over him and carried him up to the surface. It is the first wild caught one we have ever collected, and luckily we have secured our permits to allow us to collect him. The best part is now I can hold this over the head of my colleages for the rest of my life! The seahorse is acclimating well in our system at work. Before you worry about him you will be happy to know he has eaten his first food today (shrimp) and will be joining our female in hopes we can captive breed them to help with the special survival program. He will get all the food he can eat, live in a parasite free habitat with no predators. With luck he will get to have sex all the time (LUCKY) and be the father of many generations of seahorses. Err, maybe i should say he will be the mother since he will carry the eggs and hatch out the baby sea horses that will measure about 1/2 a centimeter!

Edit Note:  We had this seahorse on display for about three  years, I rarely name any of our animals but this one I named “Earl” from one of my favorite tv shows, “my name is Earl”.  Earl eventually passed away but he fathered several generations of seahorses.  If you come to the aquatic nursery at work you can see his offspring, some of them are red just like their dad :).  We’ve had such success with our seahorse breeding program that we haven’t had to collect or get any from other institutions.  In fact we’ve actually given them to a few other aquariums in the area 🙂

!

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