Amorous seahorses: Underwater love at London Zoo

Conservationists encourage animals to mate by supplying the fishy couples with their own private tanks

A A A

Sometimes all a seahorse needs is a little privacy. Conservationists have discovered that the secret to the fish's mating success lies in creating private "honeymoon suites" for breeding.

Seahorses are a protected species in the UK, and London Zoo is managing to boost populations of native short- and long-snouted varieties by providing couples with their own private tanks. This technique has allowed the institution to give more than 300 seahorses to breeding and research projects across Europe.

The zoo's work in breeding the declining fish has been taking place in a hidden warehouse behind the public aquarium since 1996. Now, for the first time, the public can watch the conservationists in action at a special exhibit, which opened yesterday.

Brian Zimmerman, curator of the aquarium at London Zoo, said: "We noticed when we kept the seahorses in bigger groups, a pair would start a courtship dance, and another male – or sometimes a female – would try to muscle in and disrupt their ability to complete courtship."

"Now we put a mixture of males and females in a larger courtship tank, then, when we observe a couple pairing off, we give them their own individual tanks. It's their honeymoon suite."

Seahorses give very clear indications of their chosen partner before they actually mate. At first light in the spring they will perform an elaborate flirtation, entwining tails, twirling each other round in a dance and promenading along the bottom of the tank. When their keepers observe this behaviour the fish are quickly removed to their own private breeding tank.

To keep more of the offspring, known as fry, alive, London Zoo has also pioneered the use of spherical tanks with a current running through them to replicate ocean life. After birth, they are immediately removed, allowing their parents to get on with making a new batch. The fry are later moved into the mixed tanks, where they can select a mate.

Seahorses often mate for life, so once paired off, they can be kept in the same tank indefinitely. It is the males that carry the eggs to gestation, after the females deposit them in their brood pouch.

Conservationists believe seahorse populations are dwindling rapidly. The zoo's work is part of Project Seahorse, a worldwide breeding and conservation programme which it has been involved with since 1996.

Dr Heather Koldewey, field conservation manager of Project Seahorse, who travels the world to boost populations of the endangered fish, said: "Seahorses provide a focus for us to address some of the ocean's major threats – getting it right for seahorses will mean we have helped most marine life... Every year, millions of seahorses are stripped from the sea by shrimp trawlers as their nets rake the bottom; they are overfished by small-scale or subsistence fishers; their inshore coastal habitats are subject to pollution, dredging, mining, blasting, farming, and other human damage."

Scientists from around the world will meet in Faro, Portugal, next month to discuss what many believe is a grave situation for seahorses across the planet.

Dad's left holding the babies as mum's out dancing with the girls!

* Unlike most other animals, pregnancy is left to the men. Male seahorses have a brood pouch into which the female deposits up to 1,500 eggs. Though more than 1,000 can be born at once, fewer than 0.5 per cent of infants survive adulthood in the wild.

* Many seahorses are monogamous and mate for life – but they still like to flirt, and not necessarily with the opposite sex: both males and females are happy to twine tails and do a bit of synchronised swimming with fish of either gender.

* Seahorses are rather weak swimmers and often die of exhaustion in stormy seas. They propel themselves using a fin on their back that flutters up to 35 times per second.

* They anchor themselves by curling their tails around sea grasses and corals.

* Seahorses may be tiny but they have a big appetite; they graze continually and are able to consume 3,000 or more brine shrimp a day.

* Coastal habitat depletion, pollution and harvesting have made several species vulnerable to extinction.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Travel
travel
Life and Style
The veteran poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof issues a stark challenge to emerging economies at the Melbourne HIV/Aids conference
health
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and John Malkovich talk Penguins of Madagascar at Comic-Con
comic-con 2014Cumberbatch fans banned from asking about Sherlock at Comic-Con
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
filmGuardians Of The Galaxy should have taken itself a bit more seriously, writes Geoffrey Macnab
News
Sir Chris Hoy won six Olympic golds - in which four events?
news
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

English Teacher

£21804 - £31868 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a dynamic En...

SAP Data Migration Lead

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Experienced Lead SAP Data Manager Requir...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Graduate Recruitment Resourcers - Banking Technologies

£18000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Huxley Associates are looking...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform