A short-snouted seahorse off the coast of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea. Exotic in both appearance and behavior, seahorses—fish of the genus Hippocampus—are among the most charismatic occupants of the ocean, seemingly sprung from a mythic world set apart from our own. (Indeed, ancient Greek fishermen thought they were the miniature descendants of the mighty horses that pulled Poseidon’s chariot.)
But the otherworldly nature of the seahorse has not afforded it protection from humans. Seahorses are traded both live (for aquariums) and dead (as tourist trinkets), but are coveted most of all for their supposedly curative powers. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that seahorse bodies can ease a variety of afflictions, from asthma to impotence. While this medicinal use goes way back, it is the modern ease with which these animals are pulled from the sea and shipped around the world that now threatens their continued existence. Coupled with heavy habitat loss, international trade has caused seahorse populations to plummet. As explained in the feature article on page 6, we must reverse this distressing trend if we hope to keep this “mythical” animal from becoming merely a creature of legend.
Photo by Wild Wonders of Europe, Zankl/Minden Pictures