Barbour's seahorse, Hippocampus barbouri [86K]
Of all the mysterious, secretive creatures in the ocean, the seahorse is probably the most legendary. It looks like a creature that could only exist in someone's imagination, and in fact there are few ocean creatures that can claim to influence cultures as much as the seahorse in areas such as writing, art and poetry. 

Seahorses are such masters of camouflage divers rarely see them, yet they are distributed worldwide in all but the coldest seas. Their instruments of deception include several strategies. Blotchy skin patterns coupled with an ability to change color help them blend in with their surroundings. They may grow extra skin "filaments" to imitate seaweed or seagrass growths. Encrusting animals such as bryozoans, or algae may be hosted on their skin.  Seahorses may have texture and colors so similar to their surroundings they are nearly invisible, and their slow, careful movements enhance their ability to remain unseen.

Seahorses are generally more diurnal than nocturnal. There are currently about 120 various scientific names in use for various seahorses, but many are synonyms. The latest review of seahorse classification has established the total number of species at thirty-two. All seahorses belong to the genus
Hippocampus, which comes from the Greek words hippos meaning "horse" and campus meaning "sea monster".  In Greek mythology, Hippocampus refers to a mythical creature on which sea gods rode.

Most seahorse species are under threat, primarily due to their frequent use in traditional Chinese medicine. There are efforts under way to conserve them, frequently with assistance from public aquariums. Most notable is Project Seahorse, created in 1996.

In November 2002 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, known as CITES, agreed to list all seahorses on CITES Appendix II, beginning in May 2004 -- see the press release and the complete list under "Hippocampus spp."). This means they are regarded by the 160 signatory nations to be so scarce that trade must be controlled in order to ensure that their use is compatible with their survival. The next higher classification, CITES Appendix I,  includes endangered species, which are effectively banned from collecting.

CITES II restrictions*

  • An export permit or re-export certificate issued by the Management Authority of the State of export or re-export is required.

    An export permit may be issued only if the specimen was legally obtained and if the export will not be detrimental to the survival of the species.

    A re-export certificate may be issued only if the specimen was imported in accordance with the Convention.
  • In the case of a live animal or plant, it must be prepared and shipped to minimize any risk of injury, damage to health or cruel treatment.
  • No import permit is needed unless required by national law.


Identification of above seahorse: Hippocampus barbouri
common name: Barbour's seahorse or Zebra-snout seahorse

Barbour's seahorse #2 [101K]
Barbour's seahorse #2
H. barbouri
* [101K]

spotted seahorse [98K]
spotted seahorse
H. kuda

lined seahorse [70K]
lined seahorse
H. erectus
* [70K]
potbelly seahorse [121K]
pot-bellied seahorse
H abdominalis
tigersnout seahorse [87K]
tigersnout seahorse
H. subelongatus
dwarf seahorse [45K]
dwarf seahorse
H. zosterae
seahorse pair [142K]
seahorse pair


artist's rendition of a seahorse

*more than one photo


recommended links:
Project Seahorse
excellent Adobe PDF downloadable resource -- "A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses" produced jointly by Project Seahorse and TRAFFIC
Aquarist site promoting seahorse aquaculture:
Coral Reef Alliance articles about seahorses
Nova Online "Kingdom of the Seahorse"

recommended reading:

Seahorses: An identification guide to the world's species and their conservation by Sara A Lourie, Amanda C. J. Vincent and Heather J. Hall
[comment: excellent for scientific info]

Seahorses, Pipefishes and their relatives by Rudie H. Kuiter
[comment: great photos]

*photo note: all photos are lower-resolution versions of original digital images, from various aquarium visits

back to Gallery IV