Dive Dry with Dr. Bill

#546: When Is a Horse Not a Horse?

I love most animals, especially those in the aquatic realm, but there is one species I just don't seem to get along with. I'm talking about Equus ferus caballus. I don't care if you call them foals, colts, fillies, ponies, mares, stallions, geldings or just plain horses, they are NOT my friends. In fact, statistically they are more dangerous than the sharks you think I'm crazy to dive with.

The first time I rode one was bareback on the sand near Jacksonville Beach, FL, where I lived during early childhood. I was just a young lad, but a precocious one for even then I knew that a certain part of my male anatomy was in danger from this romp along the beach, and I might need it sometime in the future. The second time I rode one was in the mountains of Breckinridge and that equine reared up and nearly threw me out of the corral when a black cat jumped from the fence onto its hind quarters!

However, I don't mind if others ride them... after all, I'm pro-choice. As for me, I'll stick to a totally different species of "horse..." the sea horse. Hmmm... if we follow the dictates of political correctness and shouldn't call a sea jelly a "jellyfish" or a sea star a "starfish," why doesn't that crowd come up with a new common name for these fish... since they certainly are NOT horses!

Although one species of sea "horse" (Hippocampus ingens) can be seen as close as San Diego, it is rare in southern California. While in the Philippines last spring, I was able to film a number of seahorses to add to my collection of stock video footage. My field guide to the fish of that region lists thirteen different species alone. The incredible biodiversity of Asian waters is a big draw... along with the incredible beauty of the ladies!

My macro photography dive buddies Erik and Evie were focused on the pygmy seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti) which reaches a maximum size of 3/4" and hides among the branches of sea fan gorgonians. Personally, I prefer something I can actually detect with my aging eyes and therefore image with my video camera. I thought the species I filmed was the common seahorse Hippocampus taeniopterus but my field guides stated it was not known from the Philippines. Then my friend Evie and a scientific paper I found on-line let me know that this species had been reassigned to Hippocampus kuda and was indeed found in the PI. However, mine had well-developed spines suggesting it was either H. barbouri or more likely H. histrix. Good thing they reach maximum lengths of about six to seven inches, just within my ability to detect without glasses.

Seahorses in the Philippines are found in habitats ranging from seagrass beds to coral reefs to the muddy bottoms of estuaries. They are considered non-migratory and reef associated meaning they don't wander far from home... unlike me who will go to the ends of the Oceans to bring back interesting stories for my readers and viewers. However, they are known to hitch rides on drifting Sargassum seaweed just like our local critters may travel on drifting giant kelp (Macrocystis) rafts to far off places (like the "Big Island" we see across the Channel on clear days).

Many fish species have very liberated ladies. Locally it is the male garibaldi and the male giant kelpfish that tend the eggs laid by the female in their nests. That leaves the ladies free to wander off to seek another mate (but of course the male may entice several different girls into his nest, too). As for me, I'm a one woman man (although the count is zero at this point). The male seahorse is similarly enslaved (just kidding, girls). They carry the eggs in a brood pouch under the tail and protect them. The one I filmed is a male based on the presence of the pouch. Of course if we human males had to endure nine months of pregnancy with multiple offspring, we might be much more understanding of our ladies.

Most landlubbers probably only observe seahorses in an aquarium, whether a large public one or their own. They are a favorite among aquarists, which has led to vigorous collection and international trade of several species making them vulnerable to extinction. Although I have a number of Chinese friends, I am not too happy that these fish are also collected, dried and ground up for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Of course I'm not too fond of western medicine either with its overuse of prescription drugs that often do little but mask the symptoms of the "disease de jeur." That's why I eat an apple a day, but that won't keep this doctor away... from the ladies! They'll have to taste the forbidden fruit themselves. Yes, I'm bad... but my readers seem to like that. You do, don't you?

© 2013 Dr. Bill Bushing. Watch the "Dive Dry with Dr. Bill" underwater videos on Catalina Cable TV channel 29, 10:00 AM weekdays and on Charter Communications Cable channel 33 at 7:30 PM on Tuesdays in the Riverside/Norco area. You can also watch these episodes in iPod format on YouTube through my channel there (drbillbushing). Please help me climb out of self-imposed poverty... buy my DVD's (see this link). Yes, take Dr. Bill home with you... we'll both be glad you did!

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Common seahorse (courtesy of Evie Go) and pygmy seahorse- can you see it? (courtesy of Erik Goossens);
and images of the seahorse I filmed with an arrow pointing to the brood pouch.

This document maintained by Dr. Bill Bushing.
Material and images © 2013 Star Thrower Educational Multimedia