They are an animal that many guests want to check off their critter lists and still bring joy to even the most experienced divers but who are the Seahorses of Lembeh?
Seahorses are so unlike typical fish that they were once actually thought to be marine insects! But just because they look different, doesn’t mean they aren’t actual fish, they have a swim bladder, fins and gills like the rest.
Scientifically their name is ‘Hippocampus’ which comes from the Greek hippo (horse) and kampos (sea monster) They may not look like the mythical monsters of the deep but they do have modern day Australian relatives known as Sea Dragons.
Seahorses come in many different shapes and sizes, below we introduce you to the ones that we can find in Lembeh, starting with the biggest and moving down to the smallest.
The seahorse you are most likely to find in the Lembeh Straits is aptly called the ‘Common Seahorse’. This seahorse has such a general name because it is what is given to most smooth seahorse species. They live in the shallows on dark sandy sites, commonly resting in around 2-5 meters of water although can be found down to 30+ meters. They most often come in either black or yellow with the black seahorses being male and the yellow female. Although males can have yellow markings on them as well. This species can be over 6inches tall making it the largest species we see here as well as a great photography subject. They can also be found throughout the entire Indo-Pacific, Japan, India, the Red Sea as well as Eastern Africa.
Next, we have the Thorny Seahorse. The thorny seahorse, unsurprisingly is not smooth like it’s Common brothers but has very long dark spines. The Thorny Seahorse also has a notably longer snout. They come in a much paler hue, often white/cream and pink so they can blend in around the areas of soft corals. Like the Common Seahorse they can also grow as large as 6inches and can be found widely throughout the Indo Pacific, Japan and Eastern Africa.
These seahorses are often overshadowed by the 3 following Pygmy seahorses. Bargibant’s, Denise’s and Pontoh’s.
The first species of Bargibant’s seahorse was discovered as recently as 1969. This was purely by accident as it was found attached to a piece of a sea fan which was taken to an aquarium in New Caledonia by Mr. Georges Bargibant.
These seahorses are easily distinguished and identified by their pink bulbous tubercles and the fact they are only found on gorgonian sea fans. Due to their distinct features and aesthetic appeal, these seahorses are one of the most sought after subjects for photographers but due to their tiny stature (normally around 1/2 or 3/4 of an inch maximum) and fragile environment, they are very challenging.
The second pygmy seahorse that we have in Lembeh is the Denise Pygmy Seahorse. This was found by the late Denise Tackett. These seahorses are much slender than the Bargabant’s and are even smaller in general. They are much smoother and tend to be more of an orange complexion. These seahorses are notably more social and usually live on a sea fan as a couple. You can identify the sex of the pair as the males have a much more rounded belly and the females are longer and slimmer.
The third pygmy species that can be seen in also the most challenging to find. Pontoh’s pygmy seahorse was first discovered nearby in Bunaken by a dive guide called Hence Pontoh. Unlike Bargibant’s and Denise who live on sea fans, the Pontoh Seahorses live among algae on reefs and walls. They tend to move around quite a lot and as the smallest, maxing out at 1/2 inch, they are incredibly hard to find and then photograph! They have some fantastic markings on them with red filaments growing from their head and back which help them keep camouflaged. These used to be deemed separate to Severns pygmy seahorse but more recent research suggests they are genetically identical but undergo color morphs which differentiates the two. Traditionally Pontohs are predominately white/green and what we call Severns are brown/black.
While trying to find all these seahorses is incredibly difficult, we have many guides here who pride themselves in being able to find all of them!
It is important to note that the pygmy seahorses are really only found at depths of 20+ meters so you need to be an advanced certified diver to get the full checklist!
For photographers who need to get that perfect shot, it also means that diving with Nitrox is highly recommended. If you would like to find out more about either becoming a PADI advanced diver or Nitrox certified (enriched air) then we offer these courses at our Lembeh resort!