Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus kelloggi
Species Authority: Jordan & Snyder, 1901
Common Name(s):
English Great Seahorse, Kellogg's Seahorse, Offshore Seahorse
Taxonomic Notes: Large seahorses found in the Red Sea and Gulf of Oman have been put under the name Hippocampus suezensis. Although this name is potentially valid, there are insufficient data to be confident that this is a separate species from kelloggi (Lourie et al. 1999, Jawad et al. 2011).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2d+4d ver 3.1
Year Published: 2012
Date Assessed: 2012-05-30
Assessor(s): Wiswedel, S.
Reviewer(s): Woodall, L. & Foster, S.
Hippocampus kelloggi is one of the five species most often reported as being traded internationally (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). This species has been observed in trade throughout its range since the mid to late 1990's and in these areas, the primary source of seahorses for trade was bycatch (McPherson and Vincent 2004, Murugan et al. 2008, Perry et al. 2010). Surveys of fishers and traders in East Africa in 2000 and Thailand in 1998–1999 reported declines in the availability of seahorses (McPherson and Vincent 2004, Perry et al. 2010). More recent surveys of bycatch in India have also reported declines in catches of seahorses, including H. kelloggi (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). 

Trade in this species is currently continuing both legally and illegally, with much of the reported trade originating in East Asia (UNEP-WCMC 2012a,b). Using large trade volumes as an indicator of high levels of exploitation, most of which can likely be attributed to non-selective fishing practices, it is suspected that populations of H. kelloggi have declined by at least 30% over at least the last 10 to 15 years and that these declines are likely to continue into the future. This species is therefore listed as Vulnerable under Criterion A.
Previously published Red List assessments:
2002 Data Deficient (DD)

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Hippocampus kelloggi has a relatively wide range throughout much of the Indo-Pacific. It has been recorded from Zanzibar in Tanzania, Pakistan, India, and southeast Asia, and north to China and Japan as well as Australia. This species has a suspected distribution including the east coast of Africa (North of Zanzibar), the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman (Lourie et al. 2004).
Countries occurrence:
China; India; Indonesia; Japan; Malaysia; Pakistan; Philippines; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Present - origin uncertain:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – western central
Lower depth limit (metres): 152
Upper depth limit (metres): 1
Range Map: Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: As Hippocampus kelloggi is relatively wide-spread (Lourie et al. 2004) it is difficult to accurately assess the global population trend for this species. There is, however, evidence from trade research across its range of declines in the availability of seahorses due to extensive exploitation (McPherson et al. 2004, Meeuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010). Even though some countries within the range of H. kelloggi restrict or ban the trade in wild specimens, illegal trade is reported to occur (UNEP-WCMC 2012b).

Historically, surveys in 2000 in East Africa reported trade in H. kelloggi (among other species) and that fishers and traders noted that the availability and size of seahorses in the area were declining (McPherson and Vincent 2004). The fishers and traders attributed these declines to their capture in non-selective fishing gear and destructive fishing methods such as dynamite fishing (McPherson and Vincent 2004, UNEP-WCMC 2012b). In Thailand, fishers and traders reported trade in H. kelloggi in 1998 and 1999, that the majority of seahorses were landed as trawl bycatch and that the availability of seahorses was decreasing (Perry et al. 2010).

Hippocampus kelloggi is one of the five most reported species in international trade (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a), although it is unclear how much of the natural population, this trade represents. 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. H. kelloggi was selected for review of significant trade at the 24th CITES Animals Committee due to large and potentially unregulated numbers of in international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2012b). This review revealed that in China, H. kelloggi was once the most commonly caught species but currently populations are considered to be depleted and the species is listed nationally as Endangered. Also, declines in H. kelloggi were reported in India, the Philippines, United Republic of Tanzania and Vietnam (as cited in UNEP-WCMC 2012b). 

Although it is difficult to estimate the rate of decline of this species, it is clear that throughout its range H. kelloggi is under severe pressure. This species has been observed in trade throughout its range since the mid to late 1990's with seahorses primarily landed as trawl bycatch (Vincent 1996,  McPherson and Vincent 2004, Murugan et al. 2008, Perry et al. 2010). Legal and illegal trade in this species is ongoing (UNEP-WCMC 2012a,b). Thus, it can be suspected that populations of H. kelloggi have declined by at least 30% over at least the last 10 to 15 years and that these declines are likely to continue into the future.
Current Population Trend: Decreasing
Additional data:

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Hippocampus kelloggi is most commonly associated with gorgonian corals and sea whips as well as soft bottomed habitats (Lourie et al. 2004). It can be found in relatively deep waters, with a maximum recorded depth of 152m (Lourie et al. 2004, Choo and Liew 2003).

All seahorse species have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity (Perante et al. 2002, Foster and Vincent 2004), highly structured social behaviour (Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 1999)- these traits make seahorses vulnerable to over-exploitation. They also have some traits, such as small body size, fast growth and high fecundity, that may confer resilience to high levels of exploitation (Morgan 2007). However, a specialised life-history coupled with a dependence on habitats that are subject to extremely high fishing pressure, and the fact that seahorses do not move very much and are thus easily captured, means they are very vulnerable to over-exploitation. The importance of life history parameters in determining response to exploitation has been demonstrated for a number of species, including seahorses (Jennings et al. 1998, Foster and Vincent 2004).
Systems: Marine
Generation Length (years): 2

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hippocampus kelloggi is traded both live, for the aquarium trade as well as dry, for use in traditional medicine (Evanson et al. 2011, Vincent et al. 2011). This species is large, pale and smooth which are all traits that have been shown to be sought after for traditional Chinese medicine (Vincent 1996). Hippocampus kelloggi species is one of the top five species reported to CITES as being traded internationally, with reported trade volumes averaging over one million individuals per annum from 2004-2008 (Evanson et al. 2011). Given that a large proportion of the trade reported to CITES is only reported to the genus level, it is possible this volume underestimates the true extent of trade in this species (Evanson et al. 2011). Trade reported to CITES suggested that the majority of trade in H. kelloggi originated in East Asian countries and from wild populations (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). The majority of seahorses found in international trade have been landed as bycatch in non-target fisheries (Foster and Vincent 2004, Vincent et al. 2011, and this is true for H. kelloggi (McPherson and Vincent 2004, Meuuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010).

Legal and illegal trade in H. kelloggi is reported to occur elsewhere in its range, in addition to East Asia. Surveys in 2000 in East Africa reported trade in H. kelloggi (among other species), and found that the availability and size of seahorses in the area were declining (McPherson and Vincent 2004, UNEP-WCMC 2012b). Historically, India was one of the largest sources of seahorses for international trade, and this trade included H. kelloggi (Murugan et al. 2008, Sreepada et al.2002). This trade is reported to continue illegally in spite of a ban on seahorse trade enacted in 2001 (Indian Ministry of Environments and Forests 2001, Murugan et al. 2008, Salin et al. 2005, UNEP-WCMC 2012b). Trade in this species was also recorded in Thailand as early as 1998 and 1999, and this trade reportedlycontinues in large volumes (Perry et al. 2010, UNEP-WCMC 2012a,b).

Australian populations have been protected under the Australian Wildlife Protection Act since 1998 and the species is also listed under wildlife protection laws in the People's Republic of China (Lourie et al. 2004), which is meant to prevents trade. Syngnathids have been listed on Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act as of 2001 and export of these species is therefore prohibited (Indian Ministry of Environments and Forests 2001). There is also a national ban on the capture and trade of seahorse in the Philippines as of 2004 (Philippine Department of Agriculture 1998), but illegal fishing has been reported (O'Donnel et al. 2010).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Hipocampus kelloggi is threatened from bycatch in multiple artisanal as well as commercial fisheries throughout its range such as in East Africa (McPherson and Vincent 2004), India (Murugan et al. 2008) and East Asia (e.g., Meeuwig et al. 2006, Perry et al. 2010) and this is the major threat facing this species. Hippocampus kelloggi is heavily traded for traditional medicines throughout its range; it is one of the five most reported specie in trade (Evanson et al. 2011, UNEP-WCMC 2012a). The large volumes of legal and illegal trade throughout this species' range are an indicator of high levels of exploitation pressure from bycatch exerted on this species.

Seahorses life history and ecological traits may increase their susceptibility to these threats (see Habitats and Ecology).

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. 

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 socio-economic feasibility.  But we urgently need information on wild populations to assess their conservation status and take conservation action, as well as 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 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 us to assess population conservation status and development management recommendations for various fishery types.

H. kelloggi
is listed in the 1994 Viet Nam Red Data Book, although the accompanying image is of H. trimaculatus (Lourie et al. 2004).

Citation: Wiswedel, S. 2012. Hippocampus kelloggi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T41010A17242053. . Downloaded on 07 October 2015.
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