Getting to know seahorses


Diving with seahorses is one of the most amazing things to do underwater but there is so much to take in during the excitment of seeing Neptunes, ‘little horse of the sea’. Such as what species are they, are they male or female, are they happy or stressed?


We hope this section helps to guide you when observing them, and please think of the seahorse first, if it is showing any signs of stress then back away and let it settle.

A creature of many parts

Seahorses are amazing creatures, seemingly made up from the spare parts of so many other animals.

They have the head of a horse, the long, prehensile tail of a monkey, swivelling eyes and colour changing abilities of a chameleon and the pouch of a kangaroo.

Their strangest, peculiarity is the male getting pregnant and giving birth. It is a true male pregnancy, the only one of its kind in the animal kingdom.

The stunning drawing to the right, and others on this page are by wildlife educational artist Ian Hughes and they show all the parts of the seahorse.

All of Ian’s drawings have copyright on them and so please do not use them without Ian’s permission.

To see Ian’s work click on the button below

Masters of camouflage

In the picture on the right is a Spiny Seahorse hiding in seagrass. It’s not easy to see as the spines (cirri) on its body help it to blend into its environment.

Seahorses are masters of camouflage, by being able to change colour to blend into the background like a chameleon, they can also grow and absorb the spines on their body; making them more weed-like. The Pygmy seahorses can even grow lumps (tubercules) on their bodies resembling the lumps and bumps of the sea fans they live on.

Seeing seahorses in the wild is equally as difficult for SCUBA divers, because as soon as the seahorse senses a predator (A diver) nearby they go absolutely still and will not move until they feel safe.

The first thing they do when they want to ‘disappear’ is to turn their backs on the threat and this presents a very narrow profile to any potential threat.

Male or female?

So if the male gets pregnant and has the babies why is he the male?, the short answer to this, is he still has all the male bits and pieces. However he does have a brood pouch under the belly attached to the front of the tail in which to keep and nurture his babies (fry) in.

After the male and female undergo their morning courtship display, if he is not pregnant, then they will rise in the water column together and at the vital point they turn to face each other,  the female then puts her ovipositor into the entrance of the males pouch, which is at the top.

The female deposits her eggs into him, and once full of eggs he sinks to the seabed, he then wiggles, twists and turns so that all the eggs are fertilised.

The eggs embed themselves into the lining of the pouch, where they will grow into fully formed miniature seahorses.

Depending on the species, they are born anywhere from 14 to 30 days later. Once born, they are on their own, and within 24 to 48 hours the male is pregnant again.

The female is on the left of the picture and the male on the right, with his large brood pouch below his belly.

Seahorse safety


  • One of the first things a seahorse does when you approach is turn its back to you, this is a defensive and natural reaction. It hopes you can’t see it. If you sit quietly it will settle and turn back again but a lot of divers are impatient and try to turn the seahorse which only causes it immense stress and is against the law in many countries.
  • It is against the law in many countries to touch a seahorse without a license.
  • As a Seahorse gets stressed, its colour starts to darken and it bends its head downwards to present less of a profile. If this is continuous then it could in the long term lead to the death of the animal.
  • Do not hover over the seahorses this stresses them, they think you are a predator
  • The use of flash photography is banned in many countries even with a license, if in doubt leave your flash behind or make sure it is turned off prior to the start of the dive.
  • The stress of flash photography can kill seahorses
  • If there are a number of divers do not surround the seahorse, a semi-circle is better, so the seahorses can move on if they want to.
  • If they do move off do not chase them, this is disturbance and is against the law in many countries
  • Maximum of 6 to 8 divers near any one seahorse (preferably less), if there are a number of divers take turns to see the seahorse.
  • DO NOT chase the seahorses.
  • Spend no more than a maximum of 5 minutes on the seahorses to stop them getting stressed and then move on.
  • Any seahorses seen need to be reported to The Seahorse Trust by email or through the online reproting form. This helps with the research and ongoing protection of the seahorses.
  • Do not chase, disturb or touch seahorses. Seahorses are a protected species and it is an offence to disturb them. It is an exciting experience to see one but it is best for you and the seahorse to keep your distance and calmly observe. If the seahorse swims away, do not pursue it.

The images below show a stressed seahorse on the left and a relaxed seahorse on the right.

Please watch carefully for seahorse behaviour when you are in the water with them and if they show signs of stress, back away and let them settle.

If they will not relax, then move away and leave them in peace.

Crucially do not stress them with bright lights, flash photography or strobe lights, this could lead to their death.

Stressed Seahorse

Relaxed seahorse