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Seahorse Roundup
Paul D. Haemig

Little horses born from pregnant black stallions
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 ports
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 trade
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 sustainable
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.

About this Poem

Gender roles are reversed in seahorses: only the males 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 pressure."

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 (UK).

The author thanks Del "Abe" Jones for the idea of using imagery from human-horse interactions to write a poem about human-seahorse interactions.

Poem © Copyright 2005 Ecology Online Sweden.  All rights reserved.







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