By Khor Hui Min
The cute and colourful pygmy seahorse has a short snout, rounded knob-like coronet and irregular bulbous tubercles on the body. It has a rounded spine above each eye and on each cheek.
These elusive creatures have only been discovered and named in the last decade. No more than 2.4cm in length, pygmy seahorses are masters of camouflage – their body colouration and ornamentation matches exactly with their gorgonian hosts, and the body tubercles look very similar to the polyps of the gorgonian. The uniqueness of these seahorses has attracted vast attention from divers and they are highly valued by the diving industry.
We were fortunate to be able to invite Yeong Yee Ling, who is currently conducting a study on pygmy seahorses at the islands of Sabah, to give a talk on these elusive creatures at the Malaysian International Dive Expo 2008 (MIDE 2008) at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) on 4 July (Friday).
Yeong’s talk started a little after 5pm and was attended by 12 visitors, some of whom were also fellow graduates from Universiti Malaysia Terengganu. A total of 7 seahorse species were found in Malaysian waters, and Yeong’s talk focused on 2 pygmy seahorse species – Hippocampus bargibanti (pictured above and left) and H. denise (pictured below, right).
According to her, anecdotal evidence claimed that one sea fan with a colony of pygmy seahorses had been frequented by some 100 divers per day in Sabah. Such disturbances, caused especially by photographers who take close up snapshots with intense flashlights, could adversely impact the species currently listed as “Data Deficient” by the IUCN. Several sightings of the pygmy seahorses at a few islands in Sabah were reported, but virtually nothing is known about the population status and possible threats. There are also no policies in place for their protection.
So, the next time you dive and see a pygmy seahorse, please remember these recommendations:
1.Do Not touch the pygmy seahorse or attempt to collect it for your own purposes.
2.Do Not manipulate the pygmy seahorse’s position in order to take nice photos.
3.Do Not use any flashlight when taking close up photos of the pygmy seahorse.
4.Do Not attempt to take close up photos of the pygmies if your buoyancy is poor.
5.Do Not touch the seafan or destroy any part of the seafan.
6.Do Not transfer or relocate the pygmy seahorse or seafan to another location
7.Do take note of the corals around you
8.Do be careful around the pygmy seahorses and don’t disturb them in any way.