When Clayton Manning and Meagan Abele were diving off the coast of eastern Australia last month, they came upon a male seahorse carrying babies in his pouch. Spotting the seahorse wasn't a surprise. The team was there as part of a research project for conservation group Project Seahorse. What was rare was seeing a slew of baby seahorses leave their dad's pouch and float off into the wild. Fortunately for the seahorse-curious, they captured the moment in the video above.
"We were doing a survey and found a very, very pregnant male that had a tiny tail sticking out of his brood pouch," Manning said in a statement. "I had just finished getting his measurements and a baby shot out of the opening. So we sat back and watched the father for a while." Manning is a master's student at the University of British Columbia (UBC) working with Project Seahorse.
And yes, in case you aren't up on seahorse gender duties, the male seahorse carries the babies through their gestation and birth after the eggs are deposited in a special brood pouch on his abdomen. The babies grow for about three weeks in the pouch before bursting forth into their watery world, in numbers ranging from 100-250.
"This is their time to breed," said Abele, a UBC alum and Project Seahorse research assistant. "Many of the males we're finding are super pregnant and ready to burst. It's surreal to watch it happen."
While it's not out of the ordinary to capture seahorse births on video in aquariums (just do a quick YouTube search), capturing one in the wild is more rare, according to UBC.
The seahorse seen in the video is known as a White's seahorse or Sydney seahorse. Its latin name is Hippocampus whitei, and if that reminds you of a certain region of our brains, that's because the hippocampus is so named because it's shaped like the sea creature.
While many conservation stories have a dire message, White's seahorses are thriving in Australia. Part of Manning's research is to find out why that is and how local underwater flora and corals might be contributing to the success of the animals.