Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm

Mom, The Brother and I hit the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm (note: audio and video will start playing automatically) during his visit here in Hawaii last week.  My Mom had previously been there with my Dad a couple years ago, but it was a first for The Bro and I.

The idea behind Ocean Rider is not to breed seahorses to repopulate those found in ever decreasing numbers in the oceans, but to provide seahorses bred to be pets for aquariums and private owners, allowing the already wild seahorses to remain so rather than being captured due to demand.

Besides the fact that it just makes sense, these seahorses are just much better suited for life in the confines of an aquarium.  Ocean Rider found that after a couple of generations their seahorses began exhibiting domesticated behavior, especially when it comes to feeding.  If you have two aquariums, one with wild-caught seahorses and another with Ocean Rider-bred seahorses, they will react very differently when people enter the room.  The wild seahorses will hide.  The domesticated seahorses, on the other hand, will eagerly approach, looking to be fed, much like a dog or cat.  This difference is crucial as it means increased longevity in captivity.  A wild-caught pair of seahorses will usually only survive a few years in captivity, which means they will need to be replaced on a regular basis.  Not so the Ocean Rider seahorses, who thrive in captivity for years.

We got to see this in action during the tour.  Barrels of young seahorses eagerly awaited our arrival, and when we dumped a cup filled with food into the water, they raced for it en masse like they were running the Kentucky Derby.  I could almost hear, "And they're off!"

A few weeks before we visited I'd seen a nature show about a program that breeds and raises salmon before releasing them into the wild, hoping to replenish their numbers.  It's a noble cause, but it's not working so well and the reason is because the salmon are being raised in captivity and their food is being provided for them, so they are just not cut out for life in the wild.  Once released, a large number of them succumb simply because they are no longer in their element.  There is a difference between domesticated and wild animals and Ocean Rider recognizes this.

When purchased, the seahorses are packed in water and oxygen filled plastic bags just like in pet stores, then securely boxed up and shipped via Fed Ex.  They arrive, we were told, not only alive and kicking, but happy and healthy and eager to be fed.  And what do they eat?

Brine shrimp.  Aka Sea Monkeys.  Oh, the humanity.

After years of breeding more traditional types of seahorses, the farm has also begun trying to cultivate Leafy Sea Dragons.  This breeding program is in its infancy, but the hope is that someday they will be able to expand it to protect the species in the wild.  We got a quick glimpse of several of them (I've also seen them at the Long Beach Aquarium).  Given their past success, I can see the farm making a go of this as well.

Not only do you get to feed seahorses, but you also get to carefully handle one (a staff member gets them to curl their tail around your finger).  It's a lot of fun and really the only thing I can criticize Ocean Rider for is their lack of self-promotion.  This place is truly the best kept secret in Kona.  If you visit that part of the Big Island, be sure to check them out.  The seahorse farm is just north of Kona Airport and it's time and money well spent.

Image snicked from their website, since flash photography is not allowed and none of mine turned out.

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