SAN DIEGO — There is a male Weedy Seadragon at the Birch Aquarium in La Jolla carrying around 70 eggs.
Hearing that a male is carrying eggs may seem rare, but its normal for the seadragons. What is not normal is the successful transfer of eggs happening at an aquarium.
CBS 8 sent our pregnant morning anchor, Neda Iranpour to find out how this is even possible.
If you look closely at the pregnant seadragon, you can see the babies in their eggs. Their eyes and their tiny bodies are visible, but what's not tiny is how the eggs look on the tail of the male. A male Weedy Seadragon is carrying quite the load with around 70 eggs, each one positioned in what looks like little cups that have formed on his spongey tail so he can carry the next generation.
Leslee Matsushige, the Associate Curator at Birch Aquarium says, “He’s doing really well. The transfer went really well, it’s the first time we’ve had numerous eggs transfer from female to the male.”
Let's take you back to how all of the excitement at Birch Aquarium began. Out of the 16 weedy seadragons in this exhibit, there was a female who took a liking to a certain male. Matsushige said, “I saw some courting behavior. They were swimming together and they mirror each other. They swim around, shimmy, they go and come back again, and finally they decided it’s the time and he's the right guy.”
That’s when the female released her eggs. He accepted. He fertilized the eggs and took on the responsibility of carrying the load. “She picked a really nice male with a nice big long tail and he did good,” Matsushige said.
The transfer of eggs started in early January. Soon after, the seadragon started hiding in the back of the exhibit, “he also was listing every so often to once side, feeling like extra weight on him and not as active, swimming just a little bit,” said Matsushige. Sensing he wanted to be alone, the team at Birch carefully transferred him to a separate home.
WATCH Baby sea dragons hatch at Birch Aquarium
We asked if the female seadragon has anything to do with the process and if it was ok for them to separate? Matsushige said, “Yes, once the female releases her eggs and he takes the eggs, she's done! She doesn’t have to do any work, it’s all up to the male now.”
If you think it’s fascinating that a Weedy Seadragon can carry eggs on their tail, well when it comes to seahorses the male has a pouch and the female puts them in his pouch. Then the male carries them the entire time.
You can certainly call Matsushige the expert of these types of fish. Yes, seahorses and seadragons are in fact, fish, “They have all the same body parts they’re just oriented a little differently,” said Matsushige.
Matsushige has been at Birch since they first opened. She has played a big role in the evolution and growth of their exhibits. They only had one seadragon in 1998. It wasn't until she went diving with the seadragons in Australia, when she learned how they truly live, “I traveled to Australia and saw them in their natural habitat and learned a lot.” She helped to create one of the largest seadragon exhibits in the world opening at Birch in 2019. The exhibit is 9 feet deep and 18 feet wide.
They have space to swim, eat, grow, and court each other. Some are as young as 3, and others are 7 to 8 years old, with an average life span of 10 years.
They live in sea grass and kelp beds and can camouflage really well.
The pregnant male is taking center stage even while he's cared for behind the scenes, “we want people to learn more about what the ocean holds and the incredible animals.”
Stay tuned to CBS8 and Birch Aquarium for the updates on how the male seadragon is doing and when those eggs might hatch.
Watch the Weedy Seadragon cam here.
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