Hippocampus trimaculatus


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Hippocampus trimaculatus
Species Authority: Leach, 1814
Common Name(s):
English Three-spot Seahorse, Low-crowned Seahorse, Longnose Seahorse, Smooth Seahorse, Flat-faced Seahorse
Hippocampus dahli Ogilby, 1908
Hippocampus kampylotrachelos Bleeker, 1854
Hippocampus manadensis Bleeker, 1856
Hippocampus mannulus Cantor, 1850
Hippocampus planifrons Peters, 1877
Hippocampus raji Whitley, 1955
Hippocampus takakurae Tanaka, 1916
Taxonomic Notes: The 1996 and 2000IUCN Red Lists included H. planifrons and H. takakurae. These are now considered to be synonyms of H. trimaculatus (Vincent 2001).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Vulnerable A4cd ver 3.1
Year Published: 2003
Date Assessed: 2003-04-30
Needs updating
Assessor(s): Project Seahorse
Reviewer(s): Foster, S.J., Marsden, A.D. & Vincent, A.C.J. (Syngnathid Red List Authority)
H. trimaculatus is listed as Vulnerable (VU A4cd) based on inferred declines of at least 30% 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.

Hippocampus trimaculatus is traded for both traditional medicine (TM) and curios (Vincent and Perry, in prep.). It is one of the main seahorses involved in the TM trade in Asia (Vincent and Perry, in prep.). The demand for this species is high due to its large size, smooth texture, and pale complexion when dried (Vincent 1996), all desirable qualities for traditional medicine purposes. This species is also incidentally caught (bycatch) in other fisheries and affected by habitat degradation. Trade surveys conducted by Project Seahorse between 2000–2001 indicate that while the global trade of seahorses and other syngnathids appears to be increasing, fishers and other informants reported considerable numeric declines in seahorse catches and trade throughout the range of this species, without a commensurate decrease in effort. While the 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. We therefore suggest a precautionary listing of Vulnerable (VU A4cd).

Hippocampus kuda is also threatened by damage to its habitats. Land-based activities such as forestry often lead to increased siltation in surrounding marine waters, thereby smothering corals. Some fishing gears used by subsistence fishers on coral reefs result in substantial damage to the corals (M. Pajaro, pers. comm.). 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.
1996 Vulnerable
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species is known from southwest Asia and Australia. Specimens from north-west Australia may represent a separate species (Lourie et al. 1999). Further research is needed.
Australia (Queensland); Cocos (Keeling) Islands; French Polynesia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan; Philippines; Singapore; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – western central
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population: While exact population numbers for H. kuda remain unknown, Project Seahorse trade surveys conducted between 2000–2001 have inferred that seahorse numbers in the wild appear to have declined throughout the range of H. trimaculatus. For example, in Hong Kong traders reported that local seahorses common 30 years ago were rarely found in 2000, with the decrease in availability attributed to habitat destruction and pollution (B. Kwan, unpublished data). In India half of the surveyed fishers (n=80/160) reported decreases in catch of seahorses (A. Perry, unpublished data), while in the Philippines fishers targeting seahorses specifically (n=7) reported declines of between 50% and 95% from as early as 1980 and as recently as 1997 (M. Pajaro, unpublished data). The fishers in the Philippines cited overfishing, the increasing population of fishers and indiscriminate catch of seahorses, including pregnant and immature seahorses, as causes of the decline in catch (M. Pajaro, unpublished data).
Population Trend: Decreasing

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology: Hippocampus trimaculatus has been trawled from depths of less than 20 m. In Viet Nam it has been found in gravel and sandy bottom habitats (Lourie et al. 1999, Masuda et al. 1984).

This species may be particularly susceptible to decline. The limited information on habitat suggests they inhabit shallow habitats (Lourie et al. 1999) that are susceptible to human degradation, as well as making them susceptible to being caught as bycatch. All seahorse species have vital parental care, and many species studied to date have high site fidelity (Perante et al. 2002, Vincent et al. in review), highly structured social behaviour (Vincent and Sadler 1995), and relatively sparse distributions (Lourie et al. 1999). The importance of life history parameters in determining response to exploitation has been demonstrated for a number of species (Jennings et al. 1998).
Systems: Marine

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): Hippocampus trimaculatus is caught and traded for traditional medicines, and curios throughout its range (Vincent and Perry, in prep.). It is one of the most valuable seahorses in traditional Chinese medicine, and is found as an ingredient in kanpo, Japan’s traditional medicine. In general, indiscriminate catch, habitat degradation and exploitation are potential threats to this species. For example, in Hong Kong seahorses are threatened by habitat degradation and pollution, and may be susceptible to incidental catch in the shrimp trawl fishery (B. Kwan, unpublished data). In China seahorses are also caught as bycatch although no information exists on volumes. In the Philippines declines in seahorse availability are attributed to overfishing, an increasing number of fishers, and non-selective catch of seahorses (e.g., taking pregnant or immature seahorses) and habitat destruction (M. Pajaro, unpublished data). In Taiwan H. trimaculatus are observed in the dried trade and are landed as bycatch (A. Perry, unpublished data).

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: The entire genus Hippocampus was listed in Appendix II of CITES in November 2002. Implementation of this listing will begin May 2004. 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 place 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. This species is also included in the 1994 Viet Nam Red Data Book.

Bibliography [top]

Baillie, J. and Groombridge, B. (eds). 1996. 1996 IUCN Red List of Threatened Animals. pp. 378. International Union for Conservation of Nature, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

IUCN. 2003. 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. www.iucnredlist.org. Downloaded on 18 November 2003.

Jennings, S., Reynolds, J.D. and Mills, S.C. 1998. Life history correlates of responses to fisheries exploitation. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 265:333-339.

Lourie, S.A., Vincent, A.C.J. and Hall, H.J. 1999. Seahorses: an identification guide to the world's species and their conservation. Project Seahorse, London, U.K.

Mallick, S.A., Driessen, M.M. and Hocking, G.J. 1997a. Biology and conservation of the eastern barred bandicoot (Perameles gunnii) in Tasmania. Wildlife Report No. 97/1. Parks and Wildlife Service, Tasmania, Australia.

Masuda, H., Amaoka, K., Araga, C., Uyeno, T. and Yoshino, T. 1984. The fishes of the Japanese Archipelago. Tokai University Press, Tokyo, Japan.

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. Accepted by Journal of Fish Biology. 2001.

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 range behaviour of the monogamous Australian seahorse, Hippocampus whitei. Environmental Biology of Fishes 72: 1–12.

Citation: Project Seahorse 2003. Hippocampus trimaculatus. In: The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 26 May 2015.
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