NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher Aquarist Technician April Zilg is responsible for some of the smallest animals at the Aquarium: seahorses. Behind the scenes is home to a “nursery”, where April monitors their birthing process.
A female seahorse deposits her eggs into the pouch of her male partner who then fertilizes and carries the eggs until they hatch in 11-21 days. At the Aquarium, when a male is carrying young, he is moved into a special nursery area. Sometimes the birth process lasts up to three days and the male gives birth to hundreds of babies! Only about 15-30 babies survive, depending on how large they are when born.
Baby seahorses, called “fry”, are about 8 millimeters when born and eat constantly. They only accept live food, and within 2-3 weeks double in size. Last year, April was in the process of rearing her first group of seahorses. But, one in particular had her worried. Born on October 14, this seahorse wasn’t eating as much as he should and as he grew, his stomach was sunken in. April gave him an antiparasitic medication called metronidazole in his food, but she didn't see any improvement for a long time. Under her watchful eye and care, the seahorse she affectionately dubbed “Skinny” seemed to slowly get better by himself. On October 14, 2009, “Skinny” celebrated his first birthday. He is in a holding tank with about 20 other seahorses, and growing more and more.
For April, seahorses are fascinating and she enjoys sharing her knowledge and a conservation message with others, “I can't tell you how many people don't even know seahorses are real, or have never seen one. Being able to display seahorses brings more understanding, and hopefully they like them enough that they may do a beach sweep or join an oceanic conservation association... or just more conscious of their impacts on our ocean.”
Some seahorses stay at the Aquarium on display. Others go to other aquariums, either as part of the breeding program or for exhibit. Breeding and raising display animals eliminates the need to collect from the wild. April says, “I like our seahorse propagation program because it reduces the impact on wild populations. Breeding seahorses and sending them to other aquariums makes me pretty happy because each one I send is one not caught from the wild.”