A Southern California aquarium has built one of the world’s largest habitats for the surreal and mythical sea dragons, found only in a small area of temperate waters off the southern and western coasts of Australia.
The Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego hopes the exhibit that opens this month will lead to the leafy sea dragon, the lesser-known cousin of the seahorse, being bred for the first time in captivity.
Director of animal care at the Birch Aquarium, Jenn Nero Moffatt believes the 9-foot tall, 18-foot wide exhibit is “probably the biggest sea dragon habitat that’s out there in the world, if not, it’s pretty close if not the biggest.”
Moffat expressed delight that they are already seeing great courtship and breeding behaviors between the leafy or the weedy sea dragons. “We’re hopeful we can get some egg transfers really soon,” says Moffat.
She explains, “Historically weedy sea dragons have only really been bred in a handful of institutions and never has been accomplished for the leafy sea dragon. And we hope were the first ones to do it.”
A rare leafy sea dragon on display at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego on May 22, 2019. (Screenshot/AP Video)
Birch Aquarium Associate Curator Leslee Matsushige remarked that the sea dragon is “a spectacular fish that people don’t really know much about.” She wants to show the public the uniqueness of sea dragons and seahorses and let more people know that these amazing and mythical looking creatures actually live in our oceans.
“So, you know it kind of amazes people and kind of make them curious about what is in our oceans,” Moffat said because few aquariums around the world display sea dragons.
Hence, a typical reaction from visitors will be that of awe. One visitor from Greensboro, North Carolina, Steven Kowal has never seen anything like that before. “It literally just looked like a piece of kelp,” said 25-year old Kowal. “It was crazy to me that it was like actually living and swimming around.” He added, “I find it very interesting,” and “I like it.”
A weedy sea dragon swimming at the Birch Aquarium at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, in San Diego, on May 22, 2019 (Gregory Bull/AP Photo)
There are only two known types of sea dragons—the leafy and the weedy—each representing their own species.