From the Log of David McGuire, Field Associate
Exploring, Explaining and Protecting the Natural World.
In our efforts to fulfill the mission of the California Academy of Sciences, we are exploring a remote coastline in Western Australia searching for a strange and unique family of fish. I am with Dr. Healy Hamilton of the California Academy of Sciences as part of an expedition collecting and identifying seahorses and their relatives – the sea dragons and pipefish. Besides Dr. Healy and me, the team includes Academy Research Associate Graham Short and UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student Norah Saarman.
Our first dive took place early Saturday morning near the port city of Freemantle with the help of Kevin Smith – a local parks manager and colleague studying the Syngnathidae, the family of fish that include seahorses, sea dragons, pipehorses and pipefish. Here in the antipodes it is near the winter solstice and the morning is sunny but cool as we gear up to dive into the calm waters beneath a jetty. Threading our way among the monofilament cast by the fishermen overhead, Norah discovers a seahorse, Hippocampus subelongatus, a species found only in southwestern Australia. My job is to help with the logistics including dive safety, and to document the expedition and the animals in the wild.
Photo by Graham Short
Somewhere in the murk Healy and Graham are finding other individuals of the same species and taking small snips of tissue from the tiny fins for DNA analysis. (See Healy’s Blog Post) Kevin collects two pipe fishes Vanacampus sp. and Histiogamphelus sp. – cousins to seahorses in the sea grasses nearby. The animals are remarkably cryptic and it takes a practiced eye to distinguish the thin camouflaged fish among the thick meadow of sea grass.