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Sea Horses in Bulgaria

Please give a thought to these beautiful, mythical creatures the next time you are on holiday strolling down a Bulgarian beach and they are offered to you as take-home souvenirs from the beach sellers. Over the last five years sea horse populations have been dwindling. Seahorses are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation, due to low mobility, and are used as a traditional medicine in China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines. Dried seahorses are viewed as a cure for a range of conditions such as asthma and skin disease. They are most commonly used as a treatment of sexual dysfunction! Asian nations consume around 45 tons of dried seahorses annually and yet there is no clinical proof that dried seahorses have any medicinal benefits.



Dredging and pollution of coastal waters do additional damage by destroying seahorse habitats. Seahorses are also popular as souvenirs, bought dried as key chains or decorations for display in private homes. The seahorse has few predators as it is mostly made up of bone. Crabs don’t seem to mind and are their main enemy. In recent years the seahorse has become a popular addition to the aquarium, but they are difficult to keep due to their constant need for food.

They are not yet considered endangered but sea horses are red flagged as 'threatened' on several conservation lists. These act as warnings without specifically enforcing any restrictions on their trade.

One problem is that many of the harvested seahorses are juveniles and have not yet had the chance to breed and reproduce.

Seahorse reproduction is very unusual. Firstly, they are monogamous creatures and pursue a long courtship period prior to mating .

Evidence suggests that the longer a pair of seahorses remain together, the more successful they are in offspring production. In fact, a male sea horse that is deeply involved in an intimate relationship can find himself being pregnant for up to seven months in a single year. Often the male will become pregnant as soon as he has given birth.

It is very unusual that it should be the male of the species that becomes pregnant, but the seahorse follows few of nature's rules. Seahorses take paternal care to an extreme, unknown elsewhere in the animal kingdom. The male carries the eggs in a belly pouch after they have been deposited there by the female. She presumably goes shopping thereafter!

The eggs are fertilised by the male in his pouch and he incubates them until hatching. The period of incubation normally lasts between 10 days and four weeks. When the momentous day of hatching arrives the male gives birth to fully developed but tiny versions of its species.

The seahorse has a thin layer of skin that stretches over bony plates which resemble rings running across the trunk of the body. Without pelvic fins they use their small pectorals and a single dorsal fin for motion and grasp using their prehensile tails. The sea horse's mouth is a tube-like structure with no teeth and they have small gill openings. Their eyes are capable of independent motion, allowing them a greater level of defence against the approach of a possible predator.

Seahorses also have the equivalent of a human thumb print - a coronet on the top of their head - which is distinctive to every single seahorse.

Article courtesy of Ian Wilkinson, Scuba diving on the Black Sea coast