On witnessing a live seahorse birth – in the wild

By Clayton Manning

Male seahorse giving birth. Three tiny seahorses emerging from his pouch.
Male Hippocampus whitei giving birth off in Nelson Bay, NSW, Australia. Found by Meagan Abele and Clayton Manning while doing seahorse surveys.

They say that good things come to those who wait. But after what recently happened in the waters of Port Stephens, Australia, I’ve realized that some really cool things happen to those who are just in the right place at the right damn time. On my team’s fourth day of research diving we encountered (and filmed) a very, very pregnant male White’s seahorse giving birth.

When I realized I was watching newborn seahorses emerge from his brood pouch, I was mesmerized, but guessed that it must be a common occurrence (this was only our fourth dive, after all). And I was mostly right. Plenty have captured seahorses giving birth on video in aquaria, and even more have seen it without a camera. Earlier this year, in fact, a video of a male Hippocampus kuda (the yellow seahorse) firing babies out like a shotgun went semi-viral. But, again, it was filmed in captivity. I then thought back to every seahorse video I’d seen and it occurred to me that none were of a birth in the wild. It’s pretty cool to be a part of something so rare, so when Meagan (my research assistant who took the footage) and I stopped filming, we high-fived and went to the surface. We were positively beaming; not because we’d captured the birth, but because we’d seen it with our very eyes. Did I mention it was only our fourth research dive?

Seahorses are an iconic marine species for a number of reasons, not least of which is that males give birth. They are a spectacle of nature that are becoming more and more difficult to find in the wild. Luckily, Australia has shown a lot of leadership on marine conservation issues. This type of footage would not be possible in many areas of the world. As incredible as this experience was, capturing and sharing videos like this one is far from our ultimate goal.  We hope that our work contributes to a world where videos and aquariums aren’t the only way to observe these incredible creatures.

Read the media release here

Watch the video here