Hippocampus ingens 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus ingens Girard, 1858
Common Name(s):
English Giant Seahorse, Pacific Seahorse
Spanish Caballito Del Pacifico, Caballito De Mar
Hippocampus ecuadorensis Fowler, 1922
Hippocampus gracilis Gill, 1862
Hippocampus hildebrandi Ginsburg, 1933
Taxonomic Source(s): Girard, C. 1858. Fishes. In General report upon zoology fo the several Pacific railroad routes, 1857. United States Senate Miscellaneous Document 78: 1-400.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2016-12-05
Assessor(s): Pollom, R.
Reviewer(s): Ralph, G.
Contributor(s): Czembor, C.A., Rojas, A., Acero, A. & Wiswedel, S.

Hippocampus ingens is an Eastern Pacific endemic seahorse that inhabits mangroves, coral and rocky reefs, seagrasses, and macroalgae to a depth of 60 m. Although there is limited information on changes in population numbers of this species, local estimates of population declines of between 50 and 90% were reported in the early 2000's, relative to 15-30 years prior. More recent population estimates are not available. However, declines are suspected to be continuing, as fishing pressure has not ceased and recent substantial illegal trade interceptions have indicated past levels of offtake for this species may have been underestimated. It is therefore conservatively suspected that population declines of at least 30% have taken place over the past 10 years (more than three generation lengths for this short-lived seahorse). Hippocampus ingens is therefore listed as Vulnerable under Criterion A2cd.

Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Hippocampus ingens is endemic to the Eastern Pacific, and is found from Long Beach, California through the Gulf of California to Peru, including the Cocos, Malpelo and Galápagos Islands (Saarman et al. 2010, Lourie et al. 2016, Mathewson 2016).
Countries occurrence:
Colombia; Costa Rica (Cocos I., Costa Rica (mainland)); Ecuador (Ecuador (mainland), Galápagos); El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras (Honduras (mainland)); Mexico (Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chiapas, Colima, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Nayarit, Oaxaca, Sinaloa, Sonora); Nicaragua (Nicaragua (mainland)); Panama; Peru; United States (California)
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Pacific – southeast; Pacific – eastern central
Additional data:
Continuing decline in area of occupancy (AOO):Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in area of occupancy (AOO):UnknownEstimated extent of occurrence (EOO) - km2:
Continuing decline in extent of occurrence (EOO):UnknownExtreme fluctuations in extent of occurrence (EOO):Unknown
Continuing decline in number of locations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in the number of locations:Unknown
Lower depth limit (metres):60
Upper depth limit (metres):1
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:Interviews with shrimp fishers on the Pacific coast of Mexico in 2000 estimated that catch per unit effort of H. ingens had declined from hundreds or thousands caught per month to tens or none (a decline of 75–90% of estimated catch relative to the previous 15–30 years) attributed to over-exploitation and trade (Baum and Vincent 2005). Declines were also seen in Ecuador, and were likely due to heavy fishing pressure. Target H. ingens fisheries on the Pacific coasts of Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama and Peru have experienced declines of approximately 50% in a similar time period (Baum and Vincent 2005). It is therefore conservative to estimate a decline of just 30% over its entire range occurred over the preceding three generations. Although there is no more up-to-date information, pressures and declines are suspected to have continued and possibly even accelerated. This species has repeatedly been confiscated in Peruvian waters en route to China, the most recent seizure totalling 8 million animals (Actman 2016). Such a high level of exploitation, whether through bycatch or targeted fishing, is likely impacting the population.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:No
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:UnknownAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Hippocampus ingens inhabits waters to 60 m depth. Habitats include mangroves, macroalgae, seagrasses, and rocky and coral reefs (Lourie et al. 2004).  It is also known to be associated with flotsam as it has been collected at the surface and from the stomachs of the Pacific Yellowfin Tuna (Thunnus albacares) and Bluefin Tuna (Thunnus orientalis) (Humann and Deloach 1993, Lourie et al. 2004). This species is sometimes caught by tuna purse seiners in the open ocean, possibly from drifting algae.
Little is known about feeding, but this species likely consumes small benthic and/or planktonic crustaceans such as harpacticoid and cyclopoid copepods, gammarid shrimps, and mysids (Woods et al. 2002, Kendrick and Hyndes 2005, Kitsos et al. 2008, Yip et al. 2015, Valladares et al. 2016). 
Like all seahorses, they are ovovivparous and females transfer eggs to the male’s brood pouch where the embryos are nurtured prior to live birth (Foster and Vincent 2004). All seahorse species also have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity (e.g., Perante et al. 2002), highly structured social behaviour (e.g., Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 1999).
Generation Length (years):0-2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This species is of commercial importance for the international aquarium trade (Sánchez 1997), the traditional medicinal trade, and as curios (Baum and Vincent 2005, Vincent et al. 2011). It is commercially exported from Peru, Mexico, and the US (UNEP-WCMC 2012). Recently, Peruvian authorities have purportedly made multiple seizures of large hauls of dried Hippocampus ingens that were destined for China. In 2012 an illegal shipment of 16,000 animals was confiscated (BBC 2012), and in June of 2016 a substantially larger shipment of 8 million animals was intercepted (Actman 2016). Both seizures were presumably entirely composed of H. ingens, as it is the only species present in the Eastern Pacific (Lourie et al. 2016). Trade documented through CITES has ranged from hundreds to several thousand over the past several years, but illegal trade is suspected to dwarf this number. Although numbers of individuals caught per vessel as bycatch is low, the number of vessels in the water means that substantial numbers are taken (Lawson et al. 2017).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This species is threatened by being caught as by-catch in the shrimp trawl fisheries in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, and Peru. Surveys of Latin America in the early 2000s have estimated that between 199,000 and 380,000 seahorses are incidentally caught on the Pacific coast each year (Baum and Vincent 2005). There was also anecdotal evidence from fishers and traders of declines in seahorse availability, which raises conservation concerns for this species (Baum and Vincent 2005).

This species may be particularly susceptible to decline resulting from degradation of habitat from coastal development, tourism and fisheries because they inhabit relatively shallow areas (Lourie et al. 2004) where these threats are most pronounced. Like most seahorses, H. ingens have been shown to have high site fidelity and relatively small broods (Lourie et al. 2004, Saarman et al. 2010), which makes them sensitive to disturbance and limits their potential for recovery.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Hippocampus ingens is listed along with all seahorses on CITES Appendix II. This species' distribution falls into a number of Marine Protected Areas in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (WDPA 2016). Hippocampus ingens is listed on Mexico’s NOM-059-SEMARNAT-2001 as a species subject to special protection; intentional capture and trade of wild seahorses is prohibited. In Panama, H. ingens are included under the Ministry of Agriculture’s decree 19.450, which regulates the extraction of coral reef fishes.
Further research is needed in order to estimate population size and to determine levels of offtake.

Citation: Pollom, R. 2017. Hippocampus ingens. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T10072A54905720. . Downloaded on 20 September 2018.
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