New seahorse exhibit opens in Monterey

April 2, 2009 10:10:22 PM PDT
To celebrate its 25th anniversary, the Monterey Bay Aquarium is about to open a special new exhibit. It's all about the secret world of one of the oceans' unique creatures.

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At times you know exactly what you are looking at and sometimes you're not so sure. Every fascinating creature is part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium's latest exhibit called The Secret Life of Seahorses.

"You look at them and they have a monkey tail, snout that looks like a horses and a kangaroo pouch. People really don't think they are fish, but they are," says Paul Clarkson, an aquarium curator.

Instead of scales, these fish have boney plates under the skin. The 5,000 square foot display features 17 species from the seahorse family. Each tends to blend with its environment, even changing colors for protection. There are the kelp-looking sea dragons, pipe horses, and pipefish.

One of the most fascinating aspects is the way they mate and breed. The exhibit peers into that private life and highlights elaborate underwater rituals.

"To reinforce that bond, they court and dance on a daily basis through the breeding season so it's really quite remarkable when you think of these fish out in the ocean dancing and courting each other," says Ava Ferguson, a senior exhibit developer.

The tango is consummated when the female impregnates the male who carries the developing young in a pouch before giving birth.

"To see a male anything with a pouch of sometimes hundreds of babies is very unique, so that's going to be great for folks to see," says Clarkson.

Visitors can gaze at baby Dwarf Seahorses as small as a grain of rice and Pacific Seahorses up to a foot long. The $2.25 million exhibit opens on Monday, but aquarium volunteers got a sneak peak.

"This is amazing! There is stuff in here that I have never seen before," says Barbie Maschmeier, an aquarium volunteer.

The aquarium hopes if people learn more about seahorses and their relatives, they will care more about protecting them and their ocean habitat.

www.montereybayaquarium.org

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