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Campus Currents May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

Where the Wild Seadragons Are

It took nearly two decades, a trip halfway around the world and a 15-foot dive “down under” for Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography co-curator Leslee Matsushige to see her first seadragon in the wild.

“What an incredible sight,” says Matsushige, who’s cared for the aquarium’s seahorses and seadragons for 18 years. “These fish are such experts at camouflage; you can’t even tell they’re there.”

Matsushige traveled to Australia in May to study the animals in their native waters as part of the aquarium’s propagation efforts. Backed by a $300,000 grant from the Lowe Family Foundation, Matsushige and Greg Rouse, a Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor, are hoping to establish one of the world’s first seadragon breeding programs. The aquarium already houses a successful seahorse breeding program.

Relatives of the seahorse, seadragons are beautifully colored fish with leaf-shaped appendages that help them blend into sea grass and algae. Many aspects of their biology, including their secretive mating behavior, are still unknown.

Though protected in Australia, both leafy and weedy seadragon species are considered near-threatened and face ongoing pressure from fishing and coastal pollution. To see videos and photos from Matsushige’s trip,
visit scrippsblogs.ucsd.edu/onboard

—Jessica Crawford