Seahorse Frequently Asked Questions

Do you have a basic question about seahorses or their relatives? We might have the answer here. And if we don’t, feel free to send your questions to us!

Conservation

Are seahorses endangered?

Only one seahorse is currently listed as endangered, the Cape Seahorse, also known as the Knysia Seahorse Hippocampus capensis. However, this is more a function of not having enough data to know how many there are or what percent are being fished. Most seahorses are listed as data deficient, and chances are as they’re studied more, we’ll find out that other species are at risk. The Thorny Seahorse Hippocampus histrix ¬†was just added to the ICUN’s list as threatened in 2012. Additionally, the Dwarf Seahorse Hippocampus zosterae is under review in the United States to see if it should be protected as an endangered species.

Seahorses are also protected by CITES, which is an international treaty that countries voluntarily participate in to help protect animals that are considered vulnerable. Seahorses were added in 2004, so their trade is regulated. Countries can legally export them if they are responsibly harvested. However, some countries have opted out. And during recent reviews by Project Seahorse, it’s been discovered that many participating countries aren’t actually regulating the harvest of their seahorses at all.

So the question isn’t entirely clear. It’s estimated that roughly 25 million seahorses a year are harvested from the ocean, many of them smuggled out of various countries. But there isn’t enough know about the overall seahorse population to gauge how significant a risk this is.

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Are sea horses in jeopardy of going extinct?

This is a tough question to answer. One species of seahorse, the Cape or Knysna Seahorse Hippocampus capensis, is listed as endangered because they live in a very limited range in a few estuaries in South Africa, and those estuaries are in danger from overfishing and human development.

The Thorny Seahorse, Hippocampus histrix is considered threatened, and the Dwarf Seahorse, Hippocampus zosterae is undergoing consideration in the US to be listed as endangered.

The rest of the seahorse family is considered data deficient i.e. we just don’t know how close to extinction they may or may not be. Some argue that with global warming, overfishing, accidental bycatch and habitat destruction that seahorses will be extinct soon. One estimate claims seahorses will be extinct in 10 years. However most studies do not back up these findings, and instead advise caution because various species and local populations may be overfished.

On the other hand, some advocates argue that seahorses are not nearly as threatened as we may believe. They are a cryptic species, blending into their surroundings, so unless someone is actively looking for seahorses, they are easily missed. They are often missed by people who are looking for them. In fact several new species have been described in the last 10 years just because no one was looking for them before.

Either way, like all fish in the ocean, they face various man made threats, and need to be watched closely to ensure they are not pushed to extinction.

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