Scripps Institution of Oceanography/University of California, San Diego
Between September 19-30, seven baby seadragons hatched from a male weedy seadragon carrying eggs on its tail at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, an event captive breeding programs rarely experience. The male was one of 10 weedy seadragons donated to Birch Aquarium by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.
The hatchlings were part of the first brood raised in Birch Aquarium’s new Seadragon Propagation Program, which aquarists hope will follow in the footsteps of its successful Seahorse Propagation Program. Now that the first seadragon babies have hatched, the team can begin to work on replicating the process with additional seadragons. Eventually, the team also hopes to breed another species of seadragons, the leafy seadragon. Only five other aquariums in the United States have successfully bred weedy seadragons in captivity and no aquarium has yet been able to breed leafy seadragons.
Famous for their leaf-like appendages and found in the wild only off the coast of southern Australia, seadragons are relatives of the seahorse. “We are simply delighted that our talented aquarists helped welcome these baby seadragons into the world,” said Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps. “Seadragons are such magical creatures, and a successful breeding program will help support the aquarium’s education efforts as well as limit the number of seadragons that are taken from the wild.”
“The babies are doing great! They’re eating and getting bigger every day,” said Birch Aquarium husbandry expert Leslee Matsushige. The Seadragon Propagation Program is housed in a special laboratory behind the scenes at the aquarium, to ensure the best conditions for breeding and hatching. “We want to closely observe them,” Matsushige continued.
Birch Aquarium’s partners in its seadragon breeding efforts are Scripps marine biologists Greg Rouse and Nerida Wilson. In 2012, the Lowe Family Foundation donated $300,000 to help launch the seadragon breeding pilot program. That year, Matsushige traveled with Rouse to Australia to observe weedy seadragons in the wild and learn more about their native habitat and behavior.
The Trip from Monterey Bay to La Jolla
To ensure delicate handling and limit the amount of car travel required for the animals, the weedy seadragons were carefully packed into shipping bags in coolers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Sept. 1 and flown to San Diego in a private plane piloted by former Scripps marine technician Eddie Kisfaludy.
“Transporting adult seadragons is not something that happens very often, and we were a bit concerned about how well they would handle the move from Monterey to Birch. When the male weedy was discovered with eggs on its tail, that elevated our worry to a new level, ” said Jonelle Verdugo, associate curator of fish and invertebrates at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
If the male seadragon were stressed, he might have dropped the eggs, aquarium officials said. The experts at both aquariums did everything possible to reduce stress that might be caused by the trip to San Diego.
“Being able to fly the seadragon in a private plane significantly reduced the amount of time it took to get him from his old home to his new home,” Verdugo added.
The donated seadragons were part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s temporary exhibit, The Secret Lives of Seahorses, which closed on Sept. 3 to make room for an upcoming exhibit about cephalopods (octopuses and their relatives) opening April 2014.
Visitors to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps can learn more about seadragons, seahorses, the aquarium’s successful Seahorse Propagation Program (currently in its 19th year) and its new Seadragon Propagation Program in the exhibit, There’s Something About Seahorses, currently on display and included with the price of admission.
About Birch Aquarium at Scripps
Birch Aquarium at Scripps is the public exploration center for the world-renowned Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the aquarium features more than 60 habitats of fish and invertebrates from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest to the tropical waters of Mexico and beyond. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, earth and ocean science and features five dozen interactive elements. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium has an annual attendance of more than 405,000, including 42,000 school children.
Location: 2300 Expedition Way, La Jolla, Calif.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
$17 Adult (18+)
$14 Teen (13-17)
$12.50 Child (3-12)
$13 Senior (60+)
$11 UCSD student/staff w/ID
$12 College Student w/ID
Free Ages 2 and under
Directions: From Interstate 5, exit at La Jolla Village Drive.
West one mile. Left on Expedition Way.
Parking: Birch Aquarium offers three-hour courtesy parking.