Steed of the Sea

By staff April 1, 2003

To spot a tiny seahorse, its delicate fins fluttering like wings in the ebbing tide, is to see a creature from a fairy tale-improbable, ethereal and mysterious. Although their numbers have diminished in local waters in the last decade, you can still find live seahorses in Sarasota Bay, or their dessicated shapes intermingled with grasses on the beach.

Among the most common to Florida's Gulf coast are the lined seahorse, identified by horizontal lines across its body, and often five inches tall; the much smaller dwarf seahorse; and the elusive longsnout seahorse, which is about the size of the lined seahorse but has spots on its body. They each rarely weigh more than an ounce or two.

Seahorses are monogamous; and in a twist on much of nature, the male gives birth from a brood pouch. Once born, they face both natural predators and the effects of human development, from dredging that destroys their sea grass habitat to contaminated stormwater runoff. Fishing nets capture them by the thousands, and they are frequently sold for aquariums, even though they seldom survive in captivity. In Asia, they are used to treat a variety of ills, including impotence; recently, the United Nations has asked countries to reduce overharvesting in order to restore the dwindling populations of these diminutive creatures.

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