Hong Kong Seahorses


Three species of seahorse have been recorded in Hong Kong waters and they are moderately abundant around coral areas and in eastern Hong Kong waters down to about 7 m depth.

Seahorses are poor swimmers and lack tail fins.  They use their dorsal (back) fins for propulsion and their flexible tails for cling to seagrass and other objects. They can change colour patterns to camouflage themselves and as courtship displays. Seahorses are monogamous and will find a new partner only when they lose the old one. During courtship couples entwine their tails and perform a sort of dance. When they mate, the females deposit the eggs into the brooding pouch of the males and the male becomes ‘pregnant” carrying the developing embryos.

Because seahorses are considered valuable in traditional Chinese medicine, their populations worldwide are in decline. Caught in the wild, and then dried in the sun, they are supposed to treat asthma, infections of the throat, insomnia, abdominal pain, skin infections and sores, and are also supposed to be an aphrodisiac – it seems any rare creature is always an aphrodisiac in TCM…
Dried seahorses retails from US$400 – 3000 per kilogram with larger, paler and smoother animals commanding the highest prices.

There are no targetted commercial seahorse fisheries in Hong Kong (anymore) and with the implementation of a trawling ban in Hong Kong waters at the end of 2012, the problem of by-catch of seahorses was also reduced considerably.

But HK is an active trading hub for seahorses. In 2004, Hong Kong imported 26 tonnes of seahorses.


Spotted Sehorse / Yellow Seahorse / Estuary Seahorse (Hippocampus kuda)
The Yellow or Spotted Seahorse (via WikiCommons)
The Yellow or Spotted Seahorse (via WikiCommons)

Body length: up to 17 cm, maturity at 14 cm.

Conservation status: Vulnerable

According to the AFCD from 2001 to 2012, a total of 103 yellow seahorses were recorded in the waters off Yan Chau Tong, Hoi Ha Wan, Kat O, Sharp Island, Ninepin, Tung Ping Chau, Port Island and Bluff Island. Yellow seahorses are mostly found in the eastern waters of Hong Kong such as Hoi Ha Wan and Tai Mei Tuk within Tolo Habour, Tap Mun, Port Island, Kat O, Kau Sai and Sharp Island. They may also live near Discovery Bay on HK Island according to this blog post by HK Coast Watch.

Yellow seahorses are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. Although their supposed health benefits have never been proved, around 25 million seahorses were consumed as medicine in 2001. Common only a few decades ago in Hong Kong, they have now sadly become rare. The recent decision to construct an artificial beach at Lung Mei for sea bathing met strong opposition by environmentalists in large part due to the presence of the Yellow Seahorse at Lung Mei.


Longnose or 3-Spot Seahorse (Hippocampus trimaculatus)
The Longnose or 3-Spot Seahorse (via WikiCommons)
The Longnose or 3-Spot Seahorse (via WikiCommons)

 

Body length: up to 17 cm. Maturity at 14 cm

Conservation status: Vulnerable

The demand for this species is high due to its large size, smooth texture, and pale complexion when dried – all desirable qualities for traditional medicine purposes. It is one of the most valuable seahorse species in traditional Chinese medicine, and is found as an ingredient in kanpo, Japan’s traditional medicine.

At least one study I found from 2009 by Indian researchers aims to make progress towards a captive-breeding program to farm the 3-spot seahorse for export to China.


Great Seahorse / Kellogg’s Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi)
The Great Seahorse (via WikiCommons)
The Great Seahorse (via WikiCommons)

 

Body length: up to 28 cm, maturity at 15 cm

Conservation status: Vulnerable

There are 32 species of seahorse globally and apart from a few exceptions they all look very similar. To correctly identify them takes an expert who will look at bone features and ratios of lengths of certain body parts to each other like e.g.snout to head length ratio. So don’t expect to be able to use color or patterns to ID one. Obviously if you find one that over 17cm in length locally, it’s highly likely to be the Great Seahorse (Hippocampus kelloggi)!


Show your concern for seahorse conservation in Hong Kong and worldwide at www.saveourseahorses.org

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