After many years of attempted breeding, two weedy seadragons were hatched at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, to the surprise of all working there. Weedy seadragons get their name because of their resemblance to seaweed, they’re also cousin species to regular seahorses and are notoriously difficult to breed when in captivity, hence the rejoicing from everyone working at the Birch Aquarium.
Birch made an official statement this past week, in which they announced the births and credited themselves as one of the few aquariums in the world to have been able to successfully breed weedy seadragons.
“[This is] a momentous occasion, seadragons are charismatic, sensitive, and require detailed husbandry. We have spent over 25 years working with these animals and love that we have made the next steps to conserve this delicate species. Birch Aquarium has bred 13 types of seahorses since 1995 and started its weedy seadragon program because of that track record of success,” said Jennifer Nero Moffatt, the aquarium’s senior director of animal care, science and conservation, in the official statement.
Moffatt went on to explain that the babies were only one-inch long, currently, but will likely grow to be up to 18 inches long, they’re already feeding on tiny shrimp as well, which is a good sign in regards to their survival. It’s still unclear if the babies are male or female, and the seadragons caregivers will likely not know until they’ve reached sexual maturity in a few years.
Weedy seadragons are native to Australia; their long, thin snouts and tiny paper-thin fins allow them to propel themselves through the water at fast rates. Their fins give them an overall seaweed-like texture (as pictured), so when their quickly moving throughout the water they mimic that of drifting seaweed, which is good when it comes to protecting themselves from predators.
As previously mentioned, seadragons are cousins to the seahorse, and like the sea horse, the males carry the eggs after the females deposit them on the males tail. According to reports, the eggs then incubate and hatch in five to six weeks from the day the eggs are initially deposited. Their mating ritual, however, is unique when compared to their relatives, as seadragons are known for their “spinning dance” which eventually leads to a “snout to snout” exchange while the eggs are being transferred, which happens to look like a seadragon kiss.
Seadragons are a near-threatened species, meaning they’re practically endangered. However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources deemed the threat to be a “minimal concern” due to the limited knowledge scientists have on the species and their contribution to overall ecosystem health. For this reason, more and more aquariums have been attempting to breed the species as a means of maintaining its population, but it hasn’t been an easy feat; Birch Aquarium is one of the first to do it successfully.
Captive breeding of seadragons has been near impossible due to a multitude of reasons, including the fact that they’re near impossible to find. Their habitat in Australia allows for easy camouflage within large bushels of seaweed and coral. Nonetheless, efforts have only become more urgent to preserve the species, as climate change is threatening their habitat, which prioritizes efforts such as seadragon breeding and any other captive protections aquariums can provide for rare aquatic species that we don’t know much about.
For now, the two new additions to the Birch Aquarium will remain out of the public eye while conversationalists and aquarium workers alike work hard to raise the babies and learn more about them, so that there’s a better shot at saving the species all together.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.