Marine Management Organsition advice on flash photography

An independent scientific review concluded that flash photography at high levels can disturb seahorses, especially when combined with other activities..

MMO will consider applications for licences for scientific or education purposes to allow seahorses to be photographed using flash photography on a case-by-case basis only.

It may be possible to reduce the effects using conditions on licences issued.

MMO will update their advice if new evidence and scientific knowledge becomes available.

If you incidentally encounter a seahorse, to reduce any potential disturbance:

  • Do not pursue seahorses if they swim away.
  • If a seahorse displays signs of distress you must retreat slowly to at least 5 metres away, avoiding sudden movement.

The following list describes typical behaviour displayed by stressed seahorses:

  • A seahorse will rise up into the water column above the seabed or into surrounding area and swim with its tail curled up;
  • A seahorse will hold its head in a downward, chest hugging posture.
  • A seahorse will turn its back, curl up, lie flat or move away.
  • Seahorse’s colouring will darken, especially in the squares amongst the body ridges; and
  • The pupils in the eyes of the seahorse will dilate/fluctuate.

Seahorses and flash photography

Anyone who has looked into the eyes of a Seahorse can only be impressed with the animal that is looking back at them. It is an animal with an air of enchantment and mysticism that stares back at you with a confidence born out of being master of its environment, a master of camouflage and an apex predator; visible to only the most determined of hunters.

Seahorses are a relatively shallow living fish during the summer but during the winter they migrate into deeper waters (as discovered by The Seahorse Trust) to avoid the extremes of winter storms returning again the following year.

The exception to this is in areas where they are sheltered and have all their needs catered for in areas such as in Poole harbour and inside the Fleet in Dorset, lagoons and other sites.

Their physiology has adapted over tens of thousands of years from their pipefish ancestors to cope with these extremes, they are in fact one of nature’s most highly adapted species and in this section we are going to look at just one aspect of their biology; their eyes.

The Seahorse Trust advice on stress and flash photography

Seahorses are a very easily stressed animal and as such it is crucial to take care near them.

Flash photography and lights can kill them through stress and this is why we asked MMO to ban the use of flash photography, which they did after conducting an independent review.

It is not the flash itself that will kill the seahorses but the effect of the flash, it causes stress, which weakens the body. In turn, one of the many dormant diseases Seahorses have in their bodies will take over the seahorse in its weakened state and kill it within weeks.

So please do not use flash or lights to avoid unnecessary death in seahorses.