Paul D. Haemig
Little horses born from pregnant black
Like gold doubloons in sunken Spanish galleons
Are treasures of the sea, sought by many men
Valued for their use in traditional medicine.
So rustler ships sail from many distant
To roundup seahorses of all size-cohorts.
With fine-meshed nets and powerful demolitions
They lasso mustangs and corral them by volition.
To drugstores yearly go millions of broncos
Dead and dried, to cure sick honchos.
Asian nations are the biggest consumers
According to both statistics and rumors.
But they're not alone in this equine
For Western cowboys join in the raids
Capturing noble steeds for aquarium hobbyists
and ponies for seashell craft beach artists.
The demand by far outstrips supply
So its not hard to understand why
Seahorse numbers now are rapidly declining
And market forces are chillingly defining.
The horse thieves break up many mustang pairs
Halting reproduction of stallions and mares.
And by killing stallions in the midst of gestation
They reduce recruitment of the next generation.
Thus the vaunted "Seahorse Roundup"
Becomes a monumental foul-up
An uncontrolled slaughter with diminishing yields
a bitter harvest of exhausted fields.
The dream of making this fishery
Is a goal both worthy and attainable.
But to do it, we must fund the research needed
And ensure that the advice of ecologists is heeded.
Gender roles are reversed in seahorses: only
become pregnant and give birth to young.
During courtship, the female deposits eggs
in the male's brood pouch. He then fertilizes these eggs and holds
the developing embryos in his body until giving birth. The
gestation (pregnancy) period is "10 days to 6 weeks, depending
on species and water temperature (Lourie et al. 1999)."
Seahorses cannot tolerate intensive
fishing. Their populations collapse more easily that those of other
fishes. Lourie et al. (1999) give 6 reasons why:
(1) Sea horses have a low
reproductive rate. This is because male seahorses can brood only a
small number of eggs at a time.
(2) Capture of a pregnant male
removes both father and offspring from the wild.
(3) Seahorses usually have long-term
pair bonds and are faithful to their mates. Thus, when one of the pair
is captured, the survivor does not immediately look for a new mate.
(4) The sparse distribution of
seahorses means that
it is not always easy for the survivor of a broken pair to find a new mate.
(5) "low mobility and small home
ranges restrict colonization of depleted areas."
(6) "typically low rates of natural
adult mortality mean that fishing exerts a substantial new selective
Over-fishing and habitat destruction are
the two most important causes of decline in seahorses.
This poem deals only with the problem of overfishing, which is fueled by the
great consumer demand for seahorses as traditional medicines, aquarium pets and curios (Lourie
et al. 1999).
Lourie SA, Vincent ACJ, Hall HJ
(1999) Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species
and their conservation. Project Seahorse, London, UK
Photograph by Sonia DeCastro Goncalves
The author thanks Del "Abe" Jones for the
idea of using imagery from human-horse interactions to write a poem about
Poem © Copyright 2005 Ecology Online Sweden. All rights reserved.