If you’re looking for something to do that is unique and a little left of centre, then visit Seahorse World. Located on Inspection Head Wharf at Beauty Point along the Tamar River, Seahorse World offers an experience like no other.
The facility was originally used as a research facility, but it soon adopted another purpose – to supply seahorses to pet shops and aquariums around the world for ornamental purposes. Seahorse World is currently the only Australian seahorse farm allowed to breed and export live seahorses. Some of their exported specimens are on display in the largest indoor aquarium in the world at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago.
Apart from breeding seahorses, they are also dedicated to their conservation through education. Comprehensive and engaging tours run daily and give you the opportunity to see seahorses like you have never seen them before.
Sure, there are plenty of aquariums full of these little equine fish, and you get a glimpse into seahorse farming, but to actually be able to hold one was something we never thought we would get to do in our lifetime.
Because they are fish, they’re a little squirmy in the hand but to feel their tail wrap around your finger is adorable.
You can also come face to face with a giant hermit crab and watch it pop in and out of its shell.
Of the 50 breeds of seahorse worldwide, 22 of them live in Australia. Seahorses are part of the syngnathid family, which also include sea dragons, pipe horses and pipe fish. Yes – seahorses are classified as fish because they have fins and gills.
To feed, they can’t open their mouth as their jaw is fused together. Instead, they suck food in through their snouts. They have a long fin on their back for propulsion and two pectoral fins on either side of their head for steering. Their eyes move independently, like a chameleon’s eyes, and they have the ability to change colour to match their surroundings. Oddly enough, they can transition to any colour except for blue or green – probably the two most useful colours to change to in terms of camouflage.
We got to see a few varieties of seahorse, including the Barbour’s Seahorse, known for the spikes that cover its whole body. This makes them less appealing for eating by predators because they’re too hard to swallow.
White’s Seahorse isn’t actually white, it’s simply named after the person who discovered them. These seahorses are unique because once they have found a mate, they’re monogamous for life.
The most common seahorse at Seahorse World is the Tasmanian Potbelly Seahorse, because they’re local! They can grow up to 32 cm long and vary in colour from white to brown and spotty.
Potbelly seahorses get their name because the males have a big belly, perfect for storing little baby seahorses. Male pregnancy and birth is what separates seahorses from all other animals, their cousins – sea dragons and pipe fish – carry their eggs externally on their tail and underside.
After the mama seahorse and papa seahorse do a little courting dance for about 8 hours, the mama seahorse tickles the papa seahorse and he gets excited and opens up his belly. She dumps her eggs in there to be fertilised, and then she does a runner. The papa seahorse then carries the fertilised eggs for around 2-4 weeks. On average, the number of babies that are born from the papa seahorse’s belly is 50-400 but the record at Seahorse World is a whopping 1116 babies!
Approximately 50% of baby seahorses survive in the wild, and one of their natural predators is other seahorses! Considering what seahorses eat, and how small seahorses are when they’re born, there’s no wonder that they get sucked up if there’s a hungry seahorse nearby.
At Seahorse World, the tiny seahorse babies are fed newly hatched brine shrimp – you might know them as “Sea Monkeys” – while the adult seahorses eat a larger variety of shrimp. The babies stay in the nursery for about a month before being moved into the primary tank with some adolescent seahorses. Here, they’re weaned off the Sea Monkeys and learn how to eat the adult food from the older seahorses.
After 6 months, they’re moved to the secondary tank where they hang out with other adolescent seahorses and have fun. Once they reach 12 months of age, the seahorses are distributed all around the world to be displayed in tanks– they’re not sold to be used for Chinese medicine.
The consumption of dried seahorse for the treatment of impotence, wheezing, pain and labour induction has met with some controversy as there are no definitive studies that show any health benefits. As a result of this ‘medicinal’ use, some species of seahorses are now endangered.
Seahorse World is located in Shed 1A on Inspection Head Wharf at Beauty Point, and is open 7 days a week all year round, except for Christmas Day. You can contact them on 03 6383 4111 to discuss tour times and bookings.