2nd June, 2003
Bizarrely formed and practising one of nature’s most mysterious parenting methods, the seahorse is the victim of an international trade that kills 20 million of them every year. By Davina Langdale
Sheer weight of traffic
‘Getting up at 4.30am isn’t a whole lot of fun, and pulling on a wetsuit that’s still rather damp and smelly from the day before is even less fun.’ Oxford University research fellow Amanda Vincent has devoted over 10 years of research to the eccentrically beautiful seahorse. Her interest in the evolution of sex differences was piqued by the seahorse – the only species in the world in which the male becomes pregnant.
Seahorses have long been the stuff of myth and legend: a symbol of impudence to the Greek philosopher Plutarch; the miniature offspring of horse-sized parents that pulled Poseidon’s chariot, according to Greek fishermen. Sadly the animal’s unique physiology has also made it a popular feature in traditional Chinese medicine and a prize for aquarium collectors.
‘I began to get frightened about what I perceived to be a really big trade in these animals. I looked around and found there was no data at all, no formal trade records and nobody knew anything about the trade,’ says Vincent. That trade threatens the survival of all 35 of the world’s seahorse species.
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