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Birth of Seven Seadragons Kicks Off Birch Aquarium's Captive Breeding Program

1 seadragon

Between September 19-30, seven baby Seadragons hatched from a male Weedy Seadragon carrying eggs on its tail at Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, an event captive breeding programs rarely experience. The male was one of 10 weedy Seadragons donated to Birch Aquarium by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in Monterey, California.

The hatchlings were part of the first brood raised in Birch Aquarium’s new Seadragon Propagation Program, which aquarists hope will follow in the footsteps of its successful Seahorse Propagation Program. Now that the first Seadragon babies have hatched, the team can begin to work on replicating the process with additional Seadragons. Eventually, the team also hopes to breed another species of Seadragons, the Leafy Seadragon. Only five other aquariums in the United States have successfully bred Weedy Seadragons in captivity and no aquarium has yet been able to breed Leafy Seadragons.

Seadragon male with eggs

2 seadragon

3 seadragon
Photo credits: Birch Aquarium

Famous for their leaf-like appendages and found in the wild only off the coast of southern Australia, Seadragons are relatives of the Seahorse. 

To ensure delicate handling and limit the amount of car travel required for the animals, the Weedy Seadragons were carefully packed into shipping bags in coolers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium on September 1 and flown to San Diego in a private plane piloted by former Scripps marine technician Eddie Kisfaludy.

“Transporting adult Seadragons is not something that happens very often, and we were a bit concerned about how well they would handle the move from Monterey to Birch. When the male weedy was discovered with eggs on its tail, that elevated our worry to a new level, ” said Jonelle Verdugo, associate curator of fish and invertebrates at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. 

If the male seadragon were stressed, he might have dropped the eggs, aquarium officials said. The experts at both aquariums did everything possible to reduce stress that might be caused by the trip to San Diego. 

“Being able to fly the Seadragon in a private plane significantly reduced the amount of time it took to get him from his old home to his new home,” Verdugo added.  

Visitors to the Birch Aquarium at Scripps can learn more about Seadragons, seahorses, the aquarium’s successful Seahorse Propagation Program (currently in its 19th year) and its new Seadragon Propagation Program in the exhibit, There’s Something About Seahorses, currently on display.

“We are simply delighted that our talented aquarists helped welcome these baby Seadragons into the world,” said Nigella Hillgarth, executive director of Birch Aquarium at Scripps. “Seadragons are such magical creatures, and a successful breeding program will help support the aquarium’s education efforts as well as limit the number of Seadragons that are taken from the wild.”