Romance blossoms under the sea
By Sarah Ward
Living Seas Officer
As Valentines Day approaches we start thinking about those closest to us – a significant other, friends, family – and many take the opportunity to celebrate their relationships. Whilst Valentines Day is of little significance to those outside of the human race (and some within it), forming social bonds with other individuals is something which can be observed across a variety of animals – whether that be a parental bond, a relationship with a mate, or living as a family unit.
Bonding behaviour can be observed in seahorses and it is perhaps one of the more ‘romantic’ relationships seen in animals. Seahorses form mating pairs, often for life, and will ritually perform a morning courtship ‘dance’ to reaffirm their bond. This ritual will see the pair mirroring each other’s movements, holding tails and circling around each other; the dance can last up to eight hours. Although somewhat dissimilar to a loved-up couple enjoying a candle-lit dinner, it’s certainly an endearing concept and a fascinating sight to behold.
There are two species of seahorse found in the UK: the short-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus hippocampus) and the long-snouted seahorse (Hippocampus guttulatus). Short-snouted seahorses are a protected feature of the Beachy Head West Marine Conservation Zone, where they appear in the summer to breed in the shallows.
Globally, seahorses are under threat from excessive use in the Chinese medicine trade, collection for the pet and souvenir trades, and through accidental entrapment in trawls. Luckily, here in the UK they are protected by a number of conservation acts, including the Wildlife and Countryside Act, and they are also a UK Species of Principle Importance, however they are still vulnerable to habitat degradation and disturbance by human activities.
I think even the non-romantics amongst us will agree that these charming creatures are worth protecting.