Sea horses are beautiful, underwater gems that many scuba divers and snorkelers never get the chance to experience. One of the main reasons is that people are capturing wild sea horses from the ocean in order to put them in home aquariums.
As such, not much is known about sea horses, and their populations are depleting.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first heard of the “seahorse farm”, but it definitely piqued my interest. After all, who doesn’t love seahorses?
I decided to take a tour of the Seahorse Farm during a trip to Kailua Kona, Hawai’i to see what goes on at such a place.
The Seahorse Aquafarm was started in 1998 by a family that used their life savings to follow a dream. Their goal: to create a superior “pet” seahorse and prevent the removal of wild seahorses from the ocean.
All income generated from the farm goes toward making more seahorses, and studying how to help all 34 species of sea horse reproduce and therefore fend off extinction. Ditto for sea dragons. The gene pool is protected, and by using farmed fish, we are allowing the ocean to rest and reproduce.
These domesticated sea horses are perhaps superior pets to their wild ocean brethren for becoming pets for many reasons.
The tour I took focused on the Hawaiian Seahorses, and their journey of being raised at the farm. In the nursery, buckets of baby seahorses swim together, eating enriched brine shrimp that is poured in through the surface. Here, they become acquainted with the idea of associating people with feeding.
Next, once the horses reach sexual maturity (around 6 months) they are moved out of the nursery and into colonies. The farm has taught sea horses (who happen to be monogamous by nature) to “swing”. Another one of those evolutionary mysteries, once a wild sea horse’s mate dies, they lose reason to live and often just give up. But if they are taught to not form bonds and breed freely….well, you get the idea. More baby seahorses.
They also have been taught to eat frozen mysis shrimp. Our tour guide explained the process of “teaching” them to eat frozen shrimp over live shrimp. She told us, all the horses were ignoring the frozen shrimp (they wanted the thrill of the hunt) until one brave little dude decided to eat some.
And…he liked it.
They named him Mikey, and quickly realized that the other sea horses in Mikey’s tank watched and learned how to eat frozen shrimp. So Mikey went on a farm wide tour to teach all the other tanks of sea horses the ways of the pet seahorse.
So with the two main obstacles out of the way: breeding freely, and eating frozen food, the perfect pet sea horse was born, bred, and sold at http://www.seahorse.com, effectively eliminating the need to remove them from nature.
The highlight of the tour is the opportunity to hold a domesticated sea horse on your finger. Basically, they have you tent your fingers together underwater to make “a reef” and then they hook a friendly, domestic Hawaiian Seahorse onto your finger. Very cool.
Have you ever seen sea horses on a dive in the wild? Where?
PS my top two things I learned at the Seahorse Farm:
1) When you see the seahorses holding tails, it’s just a form of friendship and intimacy, similar to holding hands. (another bonus for you, whenever I SEE seahorses holding tails, I sing this song).
2)No one really knows how long sea horses live. Currently, the oldest seahorse at the farm is 15 years old, and going strong.