Hippocampus kuda 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus kuda Bleeker, 1852
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Spotted Seahorse
Hippocampus horai Duncker, 1926
Hippocampus novaehebudorum Fowler, 1944
Hippocampus raji Whitley, 1955
Hippocampus rhynchomacer Duméril, 1870
Hippocampus taeniops Fowler, 1904
Taxonomic Source(s): Bleeker, P. 1852. Bijdrage tat de kennis der ichthyologische fauna van Singapore. Natuurkd. Tijdschr. Neder.-Indië 3: 51-86.
Taxonomic Notes: The 1996 and 2000 IUCN Red Lists included Hippocampus horai, H. novaehebudorum, H. raji, and H. taeniops. These are now all considered to be synonyms of H. kuda. According to Vincent (1996) and Lourie et al. (1999), there may be as many as ten distinct species that are included under the name Hippocampus kuda. Further research into the literature on this species is needed to determine whether H. kuda is the correct name for populations occurring within the Persian Gulf (T. Munroe pers. comm. 2014).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cd+3cd+4cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2014
Date Assessed: 2012-08-16
Assessor(s): Aylesworth, L.
Reviewer(s): Wiswedel, S., Lim, A., Buchanan, J. & Pollom, R.
Hippocampus kuda is listed as Vulnerable (VU A2cd+3cd+4cd) based on suspected declines of at least 30%, first reported in 1998-99 caused by targeted catch, incidental capture, and habitat degradation. While there is little information on changes in numbers of the species, there is indirect evidence to suggest that declines have taken place and are continuing. This listing is consistent with the precautionary approach of the IUCN Red List. 

Hippocampus kuda is a valuable species in trades for traditional medicine, curios and aquaria (Perry et al. 2010). The demand for this species is high due to its large size, smooth texture, and pale complexion when dried, all desirable qualities for traditional medicine purposes (Vincent 1996). This species is also incidentally caught as bycatch in other fisheries and affected by habitat degradation (Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010, Vincent et al. 2011). Trade surveys conducted by Project Seahorse between 1995-2000 indicate that while the global trade of seahorses and other syngnathids appears to be increasing, fishers and other informants reported considerable declines in seahorse availability throughout the range of this species, without a commensurate decrease in effort (Giles et al. 2006, Meeuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010, Evanson et al. 2011). While the absolute volume of this trade, and the proportion of the population that it represents, is unknown at this point, reported declines in numbers give reason for concern and there is no doubt that this trade is negatively effecting wild populations With the main threats to H. kuda likely to continue into the future we therefore suggest a precautionary listing of Vulnerable (VU A2cd+3cd+4cd). 

Hippocampus kuda is also threatened by damage to its habitats (Vincent et al. 2011) from coastal development and destructive fishing practices. Land-based activities such as coastal construction can diminish seagrass beds and mangroves while leading to increased pollution and siltation in surrounding marine waters. Some fishing methods such as trawling result in substantial damage seagrass beds (Short et al. 2011). The decline in and fragmentation of the species’ habitats throughout its range raise the possibility of declines in populations in addition to those caused by fisheries.
Previously published Red List assessments:

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:Hippocampus kuda occurs from the Persian Gulf (Kuronuma and Abe 1986) to Southeast Asia, Australia, Japan, and some of the Pacific islands, including Hawaii (Lourie et al. 1999). The species has also been documented along the eastern coast of Africa from Tanzania to South Africa (Teske et al. 2005).

Countries occurrence:
American Samoa; Australia (Northern Territory, Queensland); Bahrain; Cambodia; Fiji; French Polynesia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan; Kuwait; Malaysia; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Mozambique; New Caledonia; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; Solomon Islands; South Africa (KwaZulu-Natal); Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Tonga; United States (Hawaiian Is.); Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – western central; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – eastern central
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):55
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:While exact population numbers for Hippocampus kuda remain unknown, Project Seahorse trade surveys conducted between 1995 and 2000 give us reason to suspect that seahorse numbers in the wild appear to have declined throughout its range. For example, in 1998 and 1999 in Thailand 81% of surveyed fishers (n=30 of 37) and 71% of fishers in Malaysia (n = 37 of 52) reported that in general, seahorse numbers including H. kuda are decreasing (Perry et al. 2010). Overfishing, an increase in the number of fishers, and indiscriminate catch by trawlers, were cited as causes of decline by fishermen in both countries (Perry et al. 2010). In Hong Kong traders reported that local seahorses, while common 30 years ago, were rarely found in 2000, with the decrease in availability attributed to habitat destruction and pollution (B. Kwan, unpublished data). These examples demonstrate  that declines have been ongoing for well over 10 years. While measures are in place to regulate reported international trade, it has not declined and sub-national and illegal trade are expected to continue into the future.

Preliminary genetic research from Thailand suggests that there are two separate populations in Thai waters: one in the Gulf of Thailand and one along the Andaman Coast (Panithanarak et al. 2010). Gulf of Thailand populations indicate a shared lineage with other Pacific Ocean populations whereas populations from the Andaman Coast shared similarities with those in the Indian Ocean and Indonesia (Panithanarak et al. 2010).

Hippocampus kuda is the most widespread and commonly encountered seahorse in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia (Baine 2008, Lourie 2001). 

In the Persian Gulf, Hippocampus kuda is common in and around coral reefs (Kuronuma and Abe 1972).

Populations in the Indian Ocean off of southern Africa are poorly known.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:Hippocampus kuda is found in shallow inshore waters normally between 0-8 m depth with a maximum recorded depth of up to 55 m (Lourie et al. 2004). H. kuda inhabit coastal bays, harbours and lagoons, sandy sediments in rocky littoral zones, macroalgae and seagrass beds, mangroves, muddy bottoms, and shallow reef flats (Lourie et al. 2004). H. kuda is one of six seahorse species known to inhabit estuaries and brackish waters (Lourie et al. 2004). H. kuda has also been recorded from open water and clinging to drifting Sargassum up to 20 km away from land (Kuiter and Debelius 1994). H. kuda diet consists of zooplankton (Paulus 1999). The recorded maximum total length is 30 cm (stretched) (Paulus 1999).
Continuing decline in area, extent and/or quality of habitat:Yes
Generation Length (years):2

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hippocampus kuda is considered valuable for traditional medicine purposes, curios and aquaria (Perry et al. 2010). This may be due to its large size, smooth texture, and pale complexion when dried (Vincent 1996), all desirable qualities for traditional medicine purposes. Trade in this species is extensive. Since the implementation of the listing of all Hippocampus species on CITES Appendix II in 2004, trade in this species alone has been recorded at over 2 million individuals per annum (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). International trade 2004-2010 consisted primarily of live animals and dried bodies, with smaller quantities of specimens and derivatives also reported (UNEP-WCMC 2012a). Trade was principally wild-sourced (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). The vast majority of trade was for commercial purposes, and the main range States involved in exporting were Vietnam, Thailand and China (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). Historically, high levels of trade in H. kuda were reported from India from 1992 until the ban of seahorse exports in 2001 (Marichamy et al. 1993, Vincent 1996, Sreepada et al. 2002). Actual global trade in Hippocampus spp. is thought to be significantly higher than the legal trade reported (Nijman 2010, Vincent et al. 2011). Koldewey and Martin-Smith (2010) reported that demand for Hippocampus spp. could not yet be met through aquaculture, but noted that H. kuda was among the seven species accounting for more than 99 per cent of international trade in live captive-bred specimens. Many range states report that illegal trading and incidental capture in shrimp trawl fisheries remain problematic (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). 

The Australian populations of this species were moved under the Australian Wildlife Protection Act in 1998, so export permits are now required. The permits are only granted for approved management plans or captive-bred animals. Such management was transferred under the new Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act in 2001. Many states also placed their own controls on the capture and/or trade of syngnathid fishes.

All seahorses are listed on Schedule I of India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, banning their capture and trade. In 2011 Cambodia and China banned wild seahorse exports. In Singapore, H. kuda is recognized as being threatened by habitat destruction and harvesting for medicinal use and the aquarium trade and harvest is not allowed except by permit.

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): In general, incidental capture in shrimp trawl fisheries and habitat degradation and exploitation are the main threats to this species.  H. kuda is susceptible to incidental catch from trawling in many locations throughout its range (Giles et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010). In China, Cambodia and the Republic of Korea seahorses are caught as bycatch although no information exists on volumes (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). Declines in Thailand of seahorse catches are attributed to overfishing, as well as an increasing number of fishers, trawling, and habitat destruction (Perry et al. 2010).

Hippocampus kuda is caught and traded for traditional medicines, aquaria and curios throughout its range (Perry et al. 2010). Trade in this species is extensive with over 2 million individuals traded per annum (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a).

Hippocampus kuda is also threatened by damage to its habitats (Vincent et al. 2011) from coastal development and destructive fishing practices. Land-based activities such as coastal construction can diminish seagrass beds and mangroves while leading to increased pollution and siltation in surrounding marine waters. For example, in Malaysia Hippocampus kuda numbers declined due to an extensive port development around the Pulai Estuary that destroyed large tracts of seagrass meadow (Vincent et al. 2011).  Fishing methods such as trawling result in substantial damage to seagrass beds globally, and especially in the Indo-Pacific (Short et al. 2011). The decline in and fragmentation of the species’ habitats throughout its range indicates possible declines in populations in addition to those caused by fisheries.

All seahorse species have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity (Perante et al. 2002, Vincent et al. 2005), highly structured social behaviour (Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 1999). These life history parameters often make species susceptible to exploitation as has been demonstrated for a number of species, including seahorses (Jennings et al. 1998, Foster and Vincent 2004). Although seahorses also have some traits, such as small body size, fast growth and high fecundity, that may confer resilience to exploitation pressures (Morgan 2007),

Due to the mode of spawning exhibited by Hippocampus kuda (ovoviviparous brood pouch male parental care), fecundity is comparatively low compared to non-brood pouch spawning fishes and therefore its capacity for population growth is more limited than other species (Brown et al. 2008). As a result of the lack of broadcast spawning of pelagic eggs, dispersal of potential recruits is limited. Additionally, given the limited swimming abilities of seahorses, it is highly unlikely that rescue effects would occur from adjacent populations.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: All Hippocampus species are listed under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). This means that countries who are signatories to CITES are subject to regulations on the export of seahorses. Countries are required to provide permits for all exports of seahorses and are meant to provide evidence that these exports are not detrimental to wild populations. However a lack of basic information on distribution, habitat and abundance means many CITES Authorities cannot assess sustainability of their seahorse exploitation and meet their obligations to the convention. The challenge is particularly large in that most seahorses entering trade are caught incidentally as bycatch and thus imposing export quotas would achieve next to nothing for wild populations. Since this listing, an average annual trade of over two million individuals of H. kuda have been reported (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a).  The general lack of capacity in funding and manpower devoted to realizing enforcement that has been demonstrated by CITES authorities has further exacerbated trade issues.

CITES has recommended a minimum size limit of 10 cm height for all seahorse specimens in trade (CITES Decision 12.54). This limit represents a compromise between the best biological information available at the time of listing and perceived socioeconomic feasibility. But there is an urgent need for information on wild populations to assess their conservation status in order to take effective action and refine management recommendations. For example, evidence on variation in the spatial and temporal abundance of seahorses would enable areas of high seahorse density to be identified, as the basis for considering area restrictions on non-selective fishing gear that obtains Hippocampus species as bycatch. An understanding of the technical and logistical feasibility of returning to the sea live seahorses taken as bycatch in various types of fishing gear would provide the basis for considering the feasibility of minimum size limits and/or other output controls. Establishing a monitoring program of landings of seahorses at representative sites, taking into account different gear types and means of extraction and recording catch and effort metrics would allow assessment of conservation status and development management recommendations for various fishery types.

Hippocampus kuda is listed as vulnerable in the National Red Data Books of Singapore and Thailand, and endangered in the Red Data Book of Viet Nam. In France it is illegal to import seahorses under the name H. kuda.

In the Persian Gulf, Hippocampus kuda has been recorded in the Jubail Marine Wildlife Sanctuary in Saudi Arabia (Krupp and Muller 1994, Krupp and Almarri 1996).

Citation: Aylesworth, L. 2014. Hippocampus kuda. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2014: e.T10075A16664386. . Downloaded on 16 July 2018.
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