Saddle up for a close encounter with the sea's most captivating creatures in There's Something About Seahorses, opening Nov. 14 at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Experience a fish with a head like a horse, a tail like a monkey, a pouch like a kangaroo and the color-changing skills of a chameleon! This 2,000-square-foot, interactive exhibit will feature up-close experiences with more than a dozen species of live seahorses and their relatives, including pipefish, shrimpfish and seadragons. Lined seahorse. Photo by Phillip Colla. Explore the unique biology and adaptations of the famously camouflaged creatures. Discover how the male seahorse gets pregnant and gives birth. Investigate what makes the seahorse a fish, though it doesn't quite look like one. Learn about the incredible threats these animals face in the wild. Journey with Scripps researchers solving mysteries about the seadragon family tree. "To this day, visitors inquire about the seahorses featured in our popular exhibit from several years ago, so we know they are still as captivated by the animals as we are," said Nigella Hillgarth, Birch Aquarium at Scripps executive director. "There's Something About Seahorses is a re-imagining of that exhibit paired with cutting-edge research about the life of these fascinating creatures and the challenges they face to survive." A highlight of the exhibit is a chance for visitors to meet the next generation of seahorses in Birch Aquarium's special seahorse nursery. True to its mission to promote marine conservation, Birch Aquarium at Scripps is a world leader in the breeding of seahorses with the goal to reduce pressure on collecting seahorses from the wild. Long-snout seahorses. Photo by Phillip Colla. Eight of the roughly 36 known seahorse species and two seadragon species are considered threatened to some degree under the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List, the most authoritative conservation assessment of the world's plants and animals. One species of pipefish - the River pipefish - is listed as critically endangered. "Since seahorses live near the coast, they are affected by all human activities that impact the coastal marine environment," said Debbie Zmarzly, curator of There's Something About Seahorses. "Polluted runoff, trash, climate change, fishing practices such as bottom trawling - all of these threaten to destroy the fragile habitats of seahorses and their kin. A strong component of this exhibit will be letting visitors know how they can help seahorses survive." Birch Aquarium is trying to do its part. In the past 15 years, the aquarium has raised 13 species of seahorses and shipped more than 3,000 specimens to 78 aquariums and zoos. Animals featured in There's Something About Seahorses were either bred onsite or at other aquariums or obtained from top-notch aquaculture facilities inspected by Birch Aquarium aquarists. With their unusual appearance and lifestyle, seahorses and their kin have enthralled humans since ancient times. Discover all the unique "somethings" about these fascinating creatures at Birch Aquarium at Scripps! There's Something About Seahorses will remain open until 2011 and is included with general aquarium admission. For more information about the exhibit and Birch Aquarium at Scripps, visit aquarium.ucsd.edu. SPECIES LIST A look at some of the seahorses riding into Birch Aquarium Pot-bellied seahorse. Photo by Phillip Colla. Pot-bellied Seahorse (photo available) Hippocampus abdominalis Native to southern Australia and New Zealand, this seahorse species is known for its protruding belly. The pot-bellied seahorse is one of the largest of all seahorses, growing up to a foot long. Conservation status: More data needed, but protected by Australian law Fun fact: Unlike most seahorse species, the pot-bellied seahorse is a relatively strong swimmer and has been known to swim hundreds of meters in a day. Lined Seahorse (photo available) Hippocampus erectus Lined seahorses can grow to seven and a half inches. They occur along much of the east coast of the United States and into South America. Their color depends on their diet and surroundings and can vary from yellow to brown to black. Conservation status: Vulnerable Fun fact: Using camouflage, lined seahorses ambush their prey and use their snout to suck up food. Zebra-snout seahorse. Photo by Phillip Colla. Zebra-snout Seahorse (photo available) Hippocampus barbouri A spiny coronet and striped snout identify this seahorse species. It lives in the Philippines and northern Indonesia. Zebra-snout seahorses reach an average height of six inches. These animals are particularly threatened because they are often captured, dried and bleached for use in traditional Chinese medicine. Conservation status: Vulnerable Fun fact: Zebra-snout seahorses are typically found clinging to coral. Dwarf Seahorse Hippocampus zosterae One of the smallest seahorses, this species only grows up to about an inch tall. They are found anchored to seagrass in depths of only a few meters. Their western Atlantic range extends from Florida to the Bahamas to the Gulf of Mexico. Dwarf seahorses spend several days courting each other through a series of elaborate dances before they mate. Conservation status: More data needed Fun fact: Baby dwarf seahorses grow up fast, and this species can welcome three generations in one year Longsnout Seahorse (photo available) Hippocampus reidi This diverse seahorse can be found at depths up to 165 feet in the western Atlantic from North Carolina to the West Indies. They are extremely variable in color and live among soft corals and sea grasses, typically clinging to sponges or gorgonians with matching colors. Longsnout seahorses can grow to seven inches tall. Conservation status: More data needed Fun fact: Young longsnout seahorses are tiny — about one-quarter inch at birth. Weedy Seadragon (photo available) Phyllopteryx taeniolatus The weedy seadragon has leafy appendages and an elaborate pattern of spots all over its body. Its geographic range extends more than 2,000 miles around the entire southern coast of Australia. Weedy seadragons have fewer leaf-like appendages than their leafy seadragon cousins, and can grow a bit larger. Conservation status: Near-threatened, but protected by Australian law Fun fact: Genetic testing from Scripps Oceanography scientists suggests there are two distinct populations of weedy seadragons and there may actually be two species. Leafy Seadragon (photo available) Leafy seadragon. Phycodurus eques Both the leafy and weedy seadragon live exclusively in southern Australia and Tasmania and are the official emblem of two states. Their fantastical leaf-like limbs are excellent tools for camouflage, and divers can have a difficult time spotting them in the wild. They can grow up to 13 inches long. Conservation status: Near threatened, but protected by Australian law Fun Fact: Like their seahorse relatives, male seadragons carry the eggs, but not in an enclosed pouch. The eggs are embedded in a special pad on the underside of the tail. Yellow Banded Pipefish Dunckerocampus pessuliferus This peculiar-looking fish resembles a tiny eel and can grow to seven inches in length. Evenly spaced black rings mark its body. Yellow banded pipefish live close to reefs in the Indo-Pacific. Like their seahorse cousins, the males carry the eggs on their tail, but not in an enclosed pouch. Conservation status: Not listed under the IUCN Fun fact: Yellow banded pipefish have a fan-shaped, flag-like tail with a white margin and dot in the center. Coral Shrimpfish Aeoliscus strigatus These topsy-turvy fish spend their lives with their heads oriented downward. They live in groups throughout the western Pacific and Indian oceans and can grow to about five and a half inches long. Coral shrimpfish are typically greenish-yellow in color with a dark stripe down the middle to blend in with surrounding seagrasses. Conservation status: Not listed under the IUCN Fun fact: When a predator approaches, coral shrimpfish instantly turn edge-on, becoming almost invisible. 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 the Caribbean. An interactive museum showcases research discoveries by Scripps scientists on climate, Earth and ocean science. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Birch Aquarium welcomes an annual attendance of more than 400,000 visitors, including 45,000 school children.
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