Hippocampus kelloggi 

Scope: Global
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Syngnathiformes Syngnathidae

Scientific Name: Hippocampus kelloggi Jordan & Snyder, 1901
Common Name(s):
English Great Seahorse, Kellogg's Seahorse, Offshore Seahorse
Hippocampus suezensis Duncker 1940
Taxonomic Source(s): Jordan, D.S. and Snyder, J.O. 1901. A review of the hypostomide and lophobranchiate fishes of Japan. Proceedings of the U.S. National Museum 24(1241): 1-20.

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A2cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2017
Date Assessed: 2017-01-27
Assessor(s): Pollom, R.
Reviewer(s): Ralph, G.
Contributor(s): Wiswedel, S.
Hippocampus kelloggi is a widespread coastal seahorse species that occurs throughout much of the Indo-West Pacific from East Africa to Vanuatu.  The species inhabits gorgonian corals and sea whips as well as soft bottomed habitats. It is threatened by overexploitation through small-scale targeted fisheries and as bycatch in trawl fisheries, and by habitat degradation and loss as a result of coastal development, destructive fishing practices, and pollution. Due to previous fisher-reported declines and intensifying fishing pressure, declines of 30% or more are suspected to have occurred in the past 10 years, and these declines are not thought to have ceased. Therefore Hippocampus kelloggi is assessed as Vulnerable under criterion A2cd.
Previously published Red List assessments:

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, north to China and Japan and southwest to Queensland and Vanuatu in Australia (Lourie et al. 2016, Jeff Leis in litt. to Riley Pollom 26 January 2017). 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, 2016).
Countries occurrence:
Australia (Northern Territory, Queensland); China; India (Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu); Indonesia; Japan (Kyushu, Nansei-shoto); Malaysia; Oman; Pakistan; Philippines; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Vanuatu; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Present - origin uncertain:
Indian Ocean – western; Indian Ocean – eastern; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – southwest; Pacific – western 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):150
Upper depth limit (metres):20
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. 2016), it is difficult to accurately assess the global population trend for this species. There is 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). If the reported declines are extrapolated to 2016, seahorses have declined by approximately 58% in Malaysia, 56-88% in Thailand (Perry et al. 2010), and 65% in the Philippines (O'Donnell et al. 2010).

Hippocampus kelloggi is one of the five most reported species in international trade (UNEP-WCMC 2012a, Foster 2016). 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 not quantified, most fishers interviewed in this species' range states reported declines that were at times substantial between 1995 and 2000 (Lawson et al. 2017). Although these declines were prior to the current 10 year time frame over which the species is being assessed, fishing and especially trawling pressure has increased substantially across this species' range in the past decade.

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).

Overall, due to previous declines of seahorses in general reported by fishers, intensification of the fisheries across most of the species' range, and habitat degradation and loss, it is suspected that declines of at least 30% in the Great Seahorse have occurred over the past 10 years.
Current Population Trend:Decreasing
Additional data:
Continuing decline of mature individuals:Yes
Extreme fluctuations:UnknownPopulation severely fragmented:Unknown
Continuing decline in subpopulations:Unknown
Extreme fluctuations in subpopulations:UnknownAll individuals in one subpopulation:No

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 (Choo and Liew 2003, Lourie et al. 2004, 2016). 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).

Seahorses including H. kelloggi are ovoviviparous and the males give birth to live young (Foster and Vincent 2004). 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 (Foster and Vincent 2004).
Generation Length (years):2
Movement patterns:Not a Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: Hippocampus kelloggi is traded both live for the aquarium trade as well as dried, for use in traditional medicine (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
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 (Foster 2016). Trade reported to CITES suggested that the majority of trade in H. kelloggi originated in East Asian countries and from wild populations (UNEP-WCMC 2012a, Foster 2016). 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 reportedly continues 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 and this is the major threat facing this species (McPherson and Vincent 2004, Meeuwig et al. 2006, Murugan et al. 2008, Perry et al. 2010). Even though small numbers are caught per unit of effort, the number of individuals taken is substantial (Lawson et al. 2017). The species may also be targeted for use in the aquarium trade (Vincent et al. 2011). Destructive fishing practices such as dynamite fishing and trawling also threaten the species' habitat (Vincent et al. 2011). Seahorses' life history and ecological traits may increase their susceptibility to these threats.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: Along with all other seahorses, Hippocampus kelloggi is listed on Appendix II of CITES, meaning that international trade is regulated and that countries can be required to prove that their exports are sustainable through non-detriment findings (NDFs) if there is concern. The species is likely to occur in several protected areas given its large range. 

Classifications [top]

9. Marine Neritic -> 9.6. Marine Neritic - Subtidal Muddy
suitability:Suitable season:resident 
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.8. Marine Neritic - Coral Reef -> 9.8.3. Foreslope (Outer Reef Slope)
suitability:Suitable season:resident 
9. Marine Neritic -> 9.8. Marine Neritic - Coral Reef -> 9.8.5. Inter-Reef Soft Substrate
suitability:Suitable season:resident 
1. Land/water protection -> 1.1. Site/area protection
2. Land/water management -> 2.1. Site/area management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.1. Harvest management
3. Species management -> 3.1. Species management -> 3.1.2. Trade management
4. Education & awareness -> 4.2. Training
4. Education & awareness -> 4.3. Awareness & communications
5. Law & policy -> 5.2. Policies and regulations

In-Place Research, Monitoring and Planning
  Action Recovery plan:No
  Systematic monitoring scheme:No
In-Place Land/Water Protection and Management
  Conservation sites identified:No
  Occur in at least one PA:Yes
  Area based regional management plan:No
  Invasive species control or prevention:No
In-Place Species Management
  Harvest management plan:No
  Successfully reintroduced or introduced beningly:No
  Subject to ex-situ conservation:No
In-Place Education
  Subject to recent education and awareness programmes:Yes
  Included in international legislation:Yes
  Subject to any international management/trade controls:Yes
5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.1. Intentional use: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Unknown ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.3. Unintentional effects: (subsistence/small scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

5. Biological resource use -> 5.4. Fishing & harvesting aquatic resources -> 5.4.4. Unintentional effects: (large scale) [harvest]
♦ timing:Ongoing ♦ scope:Majority (50-90%) ♦ severity:Unknown ⇒ Impact score:Unknown 
→ Stresses
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.1. Species mortality
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.2. Species disturbance
  • 2. Species Stresses -> 2.3. Indirect species effects -> 2.3.7. Reduced reproductive success

1. Research -> 1.2. Population size, distribution & trends
1. Research -> 1.3. Life history & ecology
1. Research -> 1.5. Threats
1. Research -> 1.6. Actions
3. Monitoring -> 3.1. Population trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.2. Harvest level trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.3. Trade trends
3. Monitoring -> 3.4. Habitat trends

Bibliography [top]

Evanson, M., Foster, S. J. & Vincent, A. C. J. 2011. Tracking the international trade of seahorses (Hippocampus species) - The importance of CITES. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 19(2). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia, Canada.

Foster, S J. 2016. Seahorses (Hippocampus spp.) and the CITES Review of Significant Trade. Fisheries Centre Research Reports 48(8): 48 pp.

Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. Life history and ecology of seahorses: implications for conservation and management. Journal of Fish Biology 65: 1-61.

Indian Ministry of Environments and Forests. 2001. Amendments to Schedule I and Schedule III of the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 (53 of 1972)..

IUCN. 2017. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2017-3. Available at: (Accessed: 7 December 2017).

Kendrick, A.J. and Hyndes, G.A. 2005. Variations in the dietary compositions of morphologically diverse syngnathid fishes. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 415-427.

Kitsos, M.S., Tzomos, T., Anagnostopoulou, L. and Koukouras, A. 2008. Diet composition of the seahorses, Hippocampus guttulatus Cuvier, 1829 and Hippocampus hippocampus (Teleostei, Syngnathidae) in the Aegean Sea. Journal of Fish Biology 72(6): 1259-1267.

Lawson, J M., Foster, S.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2017. Low bycatch rates add up to big numbers for a genus of small fishes. Fisheries 42(1): 19-33.

Lourie, S.A. 2016. Seahorses: A Life-Size Guide to Every Species. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, Illinois, USA, 160 pp.

Lourie, S.A. Department of Biology, McGill University. 1205 Docteur Penfield Ave., Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1B1, Canada. Unpublished data.

Lourie, S.A., Foster, S.J., Cooper, E.W.T. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. A Guide to the Identification of Seahorses. Project Seahorse and TRAFFIC North America, University of British Columbia and World Wildlife Fund, Washington D.C.

Lourie, S.A., Pollom, R.A. and Foster, S.J. 2016. A global revision of the seahorses Hippocampus Rafinesque 1810 (Actinopterygii: Syngnathiformes): Taxonomy and biogeography with recommendations for future research. Zootaxa 4146(1): 1-66.

McPherson, J. M. & Vincent, A.C.J. 2004. Assessing East African trade in seahorse species as a basis for conservation under international controls. Aquatic Conservation-Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 14: 521-538.

Meeuwig, J.J., Hoang, D.H., Ky, T.S., Job, S.D. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2006. Quantifying non-target seahorse fisheries in central Vietnam. Fisheries Research 81: 149-157.

Morgan, S.K. 2007. The ontogoenetic ecology and conservation of exploited tropical seahorses. Department of Biology, McGill University.

Murugan, A., Dhanya, S., Rajagopol, S. and Balasubramanian, T. 2008. Seahorses and pipefishes of the Tamil Nadu coast. Current Science 95(2): 253-260.

O'Donnell, K.P., Pajaro, M.G. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2010. How does the accuracy of fisher knowledge affect seahorse conservation status? Animal Conservation 13(6): 526-533.

Pajaro, M.G. Department of Biology, McGill University. 1205 Docteur Penfield Ave., Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1B1, Camada. Unpublished data.

Perante, N.C., Pajaro, M.G., Meeuwig, J.J. and Vincent, A.C.J. 2002. Biology of a seahorse species Hippocampus comes in the central Philippines. Journal of Fish Biology 60: 821-837.

Perry, A.L. Project Seahorse, Department of Biology, McGill University, 1205 Docteur Penfield Avenue, Montreal, Quebec, H3A 1B1, Canada. Unpublished data.

Philippine Department of Agriculture. 1998. The Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998: Republic Act No. 8550.

Salin, K.R., Yohannan, T.M. and Mohanakumaran. 2005. Fisheries and trade of seahorses, Hippocampus spp., in southern India. Fisheries Management & Ecology 12(4): 269.

Sreepada, R.A., Desai, U.M. and Naik, S. 2002. The plight of Indian sea horses: Need for conservation and management . Current Science 82(4): 377-378.

UNEP-WCMC. 2012a. CITES trade statistics derived from the CITES Trade Database. UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK.

UNEP-WCMC. 2012b. Review of Significant Trade: Species selected by the CITES Animals Committee following CoP15.

Valladares, S., Soto, D. X., and Planas, M. 2016. Dietary composition of endangered seahorses determined by stable isotope analysis. Marine and Freshwater Research Online Early View: DOI 10.1071/MF16013.

Vincent, A.C.J. 1996. The International Trade in Seahorses. TRAFFIC International, Cambridge, UK.

Vincent, A.C.J. and Sadler, L.M. 1995. Faithful pair bonds in wild seahorses, Hippocampus whitei.. Animal Behaviour 50: 1557-1569.

Vincent, A.C.J., Evans, K.L. and Marsden, A.D. 2005. Home ranges of the monogamous Australian seahorse, Hippocampus whitei. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 1-12.

Vincent, A. C. J., Foster, S. J. & Koldewey, H. J. 2011a. Conservation and management of seahorses and other Syngnathidae. Journal of fish biology 78: 1681-1724.

Vincent, A.C.J., Giles, B.G., Czembor, C.A. and Foster, S.J. 2011b. Trade in seahorses and other syngnathids in non-Asian countries (1998-2001). Fisheries Centre Research Reports 19(1). Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia [ISSN 1198-6727].

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Citation: Pollom, R. 2017. Hippocampus kelloggi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2017: e.T41010A54908593. . Downloaded on 23 January 2018.
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