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California Academy of Sciences - Seahorse Sleuth 

June 30, 2009

Back to Freo

From the Log of David McGuire, Field Associate

Down but not out, we drive from Jurien Bay to Perth and enter the lower reaches of the Swan River, the major tributary that runs through this city of a million people. The team seines in the shallows of the river and a few sleek, green pipefish of the genus Stigmatopora are caught in the mesh nets, but no seahorses.

Undaunted, we relocate and in the waning light Healy and Norah snorkel the cool 60 degree water and find two Hippocampus subelongatus for a small fin clipping and camera cameo.

Research diver

The next day is our final dive and our friend Kevin meets us to investigate another dive at the ammo jetty. The inclement sea prohibits this, so we SCUBA the Swan River near where we had visited the day before, diving in a mild current at 4 meters depth. Success visits again as Graham spots several more H. subelongatus rooted among the sponges and anemones on old boat moorings. We use this opportunity primarily for the video since the team already has a large selection of tissue samples from this species, but the large sample size may help with a population study. In the clear waveless water of the Swan, the images of free-living sea horses are the first clear images I have captured in two weeks of searching. The images from this expedition, last years New Caledonia voyage and others will be used for the public floor at the California Academy of Sciences like the Science Now exhibit, web videos and an expedition documentary in progress. I’m a bit happier to collect clear images of sea horses in the wild but the over all effort has been discouraging: however that’s field science and nature filmmaking.

Researcher using microspcope

Drying gear, repacking and returning the Apollo back to the rental silo (after removing a small beach of sand from the interior) consume the rest of the day. The evening is reserved for keying out fish, including Kevin’s careful morphometric measurements to identify the Shark’s Bay pipefish as the rare species endemic to that region of Western Australia and rarely collected.

It has been a fortnight of travel and diving and the team dissembles, Healy and Norah to the Museum of Natural History at Melbourne where they will confer with their colleagues and Norah will gain more expertise in the morphology of the fish.


The difficulty and the exertion in sampling and filming marine life is a unique challenge, at times exhilarating but also occasionally disappointing. Sea horses and their kin are being harvested intentionally for the aquarium and medicinal trades, and incidentally as bycatch in the shrimp and bottom trawl fisheries. Important habitat is also being diminished and many species are endangered worldwide. Aside from the wonder of exploring and explaining biodiversity, describing what animals live in a region and how they are related is essential information for wildlife management and resource protection. This is one of the important functions of Natural History Museums like the California Academy of Sciences. With new DNA sampling techniques very few animals are sacrificed for the collections and most are set free with a tiny bit of skin missing.

specimen0   Photo by Graham Short

specimen1   Photo by Graham Short


specimen5   Photo by Graham Short

Filed under: Uncategorized — hhamilton @ 4:38 pm

1 Comment »

  1. Lovely photos. I really enjoy seeing pictures of seahorses in the wild and hope to learn to dive some day to see them myself.

    Comment by aquagrrl — August 28, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

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