Seahorses are truly a weird and wonderful fish to find. Yet, would you really think of finding one or even a half-a-dozen within the busy and bustling waters of New York Harbor. It's true, though, Seahorse do live here. They must be tougher than they look to survive so close to the urban jungle of New York City.
There was an incoming tide the other day, the sun was out, and the sky was blue. It was a beautiful day to be outside.
I was seining Sandy Hook Bay, a small cove of the much larger Lower New York Bay estuary, on the shores of Port Monmouth, NJ. I just pulled up my net and was looking through the sea lettuce when I uncovered something extraordinary.
Bending down to take a better look, I was totally surprised to see not just one, but half-a-dozen adult Lined Seahorses. The little critters were unmistakable. No other fish looks like a seahorse, with a tapered tail and a head shaped like a horse's head. They were only about 6 inches in length.
I gently picked them up and placed the little seahorses inside a bucket of bay water. I was fascinated as I watched them swim around in the container, with their dorsal fins fluttering rapidly, but moving very slowly.
I recall that I caught several last year around this same area of the bay, but it was later in the summer. According to a field guide on local coastal fishes, May and June is a time when Lined Seahorses reproduce. Unlike most other fish, seahorses are monogamous and mate for life, but they go through an elaborate courtship ritual to determine the overall vigor of a mate. After courtship, the female will deposit between 250 and 300 eggs in the male's abdominal pouch, where they will be fertilized. Dad will then protect and nourish the eggs for several weeks.
Could it be, might the seashores I found be getting ready to reproduce and start another generation in Lower New York Bay. How exciting if true.
After a short time observing some more of their unique swimming , I released the little Lined Seahorses back at the water's edge of the bay and watched them slowly drift off.
If these seahorses can escape people taking them as pets, they have a good chance of survival. It is widely believed that Lined Seahorse have few predators due to their ability to change skin color and camouflage itself within seaweed. This is a really good trait to have in a big bay with lots of big, hungry predators. I would hate to lose this little irreplaceable fish from the urban estuary.
For more information, pictures and year-round sightings of wildlife in or near Sandy Hook Bay, please check out my blog entitled, Nature on the Edge of New York City at http://natureontheedgenyc.blogspot.com/