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Researchers discover seahorses ride 5,000km across Atlantic

Posted on 19/11/2009


A seahorse that lives on the western coast of the Atlantic has been found in the Azores almost 5,000km from its home and researchers at Royal Holloway, University of London, think it may have hitched a ride to get there.

The study, led by Dr Lucy Woodall from Royal Holloway, suggests the tiny creature may have completed the epic journey using its prehensile tail to hitch a ride on a raft of floating sea grass and the findings have been published in the Journal of Fish Biology.

Two species of seahorse Hippocampus guttulatus and Hippocampus hippocampus are native to Europe and the Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal.

The researchers compared the morphology and DNA of the seahorse with the two native species and found it was a lined seahorse Hippocampus erectus usually found along the Atlantic coast and Caribbean sea coasts of North, Central and South America.

Dr Paul Shaw, Molecular Ecologist at Royal Holloway, who has also been working on the study, said: "We were surprised to identify the unknown seahorse as H. erectus, as this species is found thousands of kilometres away."

The researchers say this is the first record of the species in the eastern Atlantic. They were very puzzled as to how it managed to navigate its way to the other side of the Atlantic and the most likely explanation appears to be it hitchhiked on a floating object.

Dr Woodall, who also belongs to the international research group Project Seahorse, said: "In the open ocean, fish are found under these type of 'rafts', as they provide protection and harbour small prey items, therefore [it is not unusual] for seahorses to use these structures. It's interesting and points that further research is required, but it cannot lead to the conclusion that there are more H. erectus in the Eastern Atlantic."

Royal Holloway’s School of Biological Sciences is ranked joint 3rd in the UK in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE). To find out more, please visit:


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