Pacific Seahorse, Hippocampus ingens
The Pacific Seahorse, Hippocampus ingens, whose common Spanish name is caballito del Pacifico, is a member of the Pipefish and Seahorse or Syngnathidae Family, known collectively as peces pipa and caballitos de mar in Mexico. Globally, there are fifty species in the genus Hippocampus, of which four are found in Mexican waters, three in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific.
The Pacific Seahorses have elongated bodies that feature a curved neck and a head at a right angle to the body. Their color varies from various shades of red, yellow, tan, brown, gray, black or green, which allows them to blend into their surroundings. Most have white spots or crossbands and lines. Mature females have a dark patch below their anal fin. Their head has an elongated snout with a crown-like structure on top that is moderately high in large males; it is tilted back with five points and a high plate at the front with prominent spines that can vary from rounded bumps to well-developed spines with blunt tips around the eyes and on the cheeks. Males have a large keel on their chests. They have small anal fins with four rays and have no caudal fin. Their dorsal fin is large with an elevated base and 19 to 21 rays. Their pectoral fins are small and have 15 to 17 rays. Their body has 39 to 41 rings.
The Pacific Seahorses are normally found well offshore between the surface and depths of 350 feet; they are associated with reefs, weed beds, sea whips, and gorgonians. They reach a maximum length of 30 cm (12 inches). They lack teeth and stomachs and consume bottom-dwelling planktonic organisms using a sucking action. In turn they are preyed upon by Bluefin Tuna and Yellowfin Tuna. Reproduction involves females depositing eggs in the male’s broom pouch where they are fertilized and remain from ten days to six weeks until they hatch as miniature adults. They are a poorly studied species and very little is known about their behavioral patterns.
The Pacific Seahorses are found in all Mexican waters of the Pacific.
The Pacific Seahorse is straightforward to identify due to its characteristic shape and cannot be confused with any other species.
The Pacific Seahorses have historically been caught in abundance in Ecuadorian and Peruvian waters as a by-catch of shrimp trawlers at levels approaching 400,000 individuals per year. They are used throughout Latin America as curios, in traditional medicine, and in the live aquarium trade where they are sold at levels of 150,000 per annum. From a conservation perspective, they are currently considered Vulnerable with populations decreasing by 30% over the last ten years. They are prone to degradation of habitat from coastal development and commercial demand. They also have high site fidelity and relatively small broods. At present they remain unregulated. They are available live via the internet for approximately $150.00 per specimen.
Pacific Seahorse, Hippocampus ingens. Three fish provided by the commercial fishermen of the greater Los Cabos area, Baja California Sur, June 2011. Length: 15.2 cm to 17.7 cm (6.0 to 7.0 inches).