What would one imagine if told of a sea creature that has "the head of a horse, a tail like a monkey, and a kangaroo-type pouch?" Even stranger is the Leafy Dragon that stretches out horizontally and looks exactly like a leafy branch floating quietly in the water. I was first mesmerized by these rather mythical-looking seahorses many years ago in the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla, CA. Since then, I've worn a t-shirt with a design of several types of sea horses and found a book to read about seahorses. So, when I heard about touring a seahorse farm in Kona, Hawaii, I put it on the top of my list during a recent visit to Hawaii.
The Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm (www.seahorse.com) is unique in the entire U.S., and different from any other place around the world that sells seahorses. Inspired by nursing a wild seahorse found on a beach back to health, and aware that the future of wild seahorses is definitely extinction, marine biologist Carol Cozzi-Schmarr and her husband Craig saw a need and a possibility and have been able to develop a growing, successful seahorse breeding farm along the sparkly blue water where humpback whales pass by in Kailua-Kona. They supply aquarium owners, which gives the wild ones a somewhat greater chance to survive.
Since conservation is more successful when humans, the most deadly predator of all our sea creatures, understand why the seahorse must be protected, one-hour tours of the facility are available three times a day, five days a week. A knowledgeable leader takes the group for close-up views into the many barrels of seahorses at various ages, explaining how they are domestically raised from birth.
Although wild seahorses exist in several places, they are endangered by a series of unfortunate events. Many die when caught up in the nets set to catch fish, and often end up dried as silly memento items like key chains. Another substantial loss of seahorses comes from the belief (even though unsubstantiated in medical research) of their medicinal value to cure leprosy, baldness, respiratory disorders, circulatory problems, and sexual dysfunction. And most aquarium lovers discover that seahorses die quite quickly because they do not understand how to take care of them emotionally or physically.
The emotional well-being of the seahorse comes from being monogamous. Without its mate, it will often wither away emotionally. Feeding is also a problem since aquarium owners usually feed them frozen shrimp, which wild ones will not eat. However, care has been taken by Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm to feed them well from birth with live red shrimp, brine shrimp, microalgae, copepods, ampipods, and sea monkeys. They are also trained to eat the frozen mysis shrimp available to aquarium owners.
Male seahorses have the unique ability to be pregnant. They carry the eggs put by their mate into their pouch, fertilize them, keep them for about 28 days, and then go into labor and eject perhaps as many as 1600 babies. The seahorse babies are not eaten by their parents and are independent from birth. In fact, the female wastes no time inserting another batch of eggs into her mate. He is just about always pregnant.
Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm does not sell seahorses to be used medicinally, but they have developed a protective way to sell a variety of types of seahorses, shipped live to the mainland. Prices for the seahorses vary, and are not cheap, but these domesticated seahorses are healthy and come with precise feeding and care instructions.
Unlike wild seahorses, the farm-raised seahorses readily come to humans for food. They are sensitive creatures with different personalities. And those who tour the farm are given the chance to have a seahorse wind its tail around a finger and linger awhile. The gentle touch of a seahorse wound around your finger leaves a lasting impression.
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