CCA Pulse Magazine
Welcome Septuagintuplets! | Bella Posel
After much anticipation following the announcement of a pregnant Weedy Seadragon in January, Birch Aquarium has welcomed 70 baby seadragons. These babies, who are about the length of a dime and weigh less than one gram, started hatching on February 26. With no guarantee any babies would hatch, the proud father was moved backstage a few weeks before expected hatching. He now remains there with the very much born babies (who can be seen in a livestream set up near the seahorse exhibit). The babies will likely be placed on exhibit in a year and are being closely monitored in the meantime. These seadragons grew in eggs that went from light pink to an almost burgundy with eyes becoming visible toward the tail end of gestation (which was described as a promising sign). Upon hatching, the babies looked like a miniature version of an adult with a short snout and the namesake-worthy appendages. They are estimated to grow up to 18 inches.
This rare breeding in captivity is a huge milestone for the breeding program Scripps Institution of Oceanography has been working toward since 1996 - they welcomed two Weedy Seadragons in 2020 but never a birth of this magnitude and significance. The Seadragons and Seahorses exhibit at Birch is one of their largest habitats in the world, at 18 feet by nine feet and holding 5,375 gallons of water. Aquarists have spent years replicating every aspect of this delicate species to best influence their health and allow them to breed - even their lighting is carefully controlled and made to reflect the moon cycles. These state of the art breeding facilities and tanks are more important than ever as the southern Australian Weedy Seadragon faces climate change, warming oceans, and compromised habitats. In their “oddities'' section, Birch displays many specimens including photos and documentation of seahorses and seadragons, showing the devastating effects of unsustainable practices for home aquariums, traditional medicine, and souvenirs. These pressures combined with seadragons’ camouflage ability makes it hard to know how many are left in the wild; Birch created their Seadragon Breeding Program in 2012 to contribute to the Species Survival Plan (a cooperatively managed program within the American Zoo Association). While the aquarium currently only hosts Weedy Seadragons, they have been studying both Leafy and Weedy ones partnership with Scripps Oceanography, contributing greatly to conservation, awareness, and breeding. The aquarium’s senior director of animal care, science and conservation Jennifer Nero Moffat says “Seadragons are charismatic, sensitive, and require detailed husbandry.” Once categorized as “near threatened,” the conservation status of Weedy Seadragons have been downgraded to “least concern.” This momentous birth marks a huge step forward in husbandry and breeding globally.
The Birch Aquarium has long focused on education and preservation, sharing the gestation process with eager watchers via social media along with offering a wealth of information both on campus and in frequently offered behind the scenes seahorse tours. Follow along with these rare and exciting babies online or make reservations to visit at their website.