Hippocampus kuda


Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family

Scientific Name: Hippocampus kuda
Species Authority: Bleeker, 1852
Common Name(s):
English Spotted Seahorse, Common Seahorse, Estuary Seahorse, Yellow Seahorse
Hippocampus horai Duncker, 1926
Hippocampus novaehebudorum Fowler, 1944
Hippocampus raji Whitley, 1955
Hippocampus rhynchomacer Duméril, 1870
Hippocampus taeniops Fowler, 1904
Taxonomic Notes: The 1996 and 2000 IUCN Red Lists included H. horai, H. novaehebudorum, H. raji, and H. taeniops. These are now all considered to be synonyms of H. kuda.

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. kuda 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 kuda is one of the most valuable species in the trades for traditional medicine, curios and aquaria (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 (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
1996 Vulnerable (Baillie and Groombridge 1996)
1996 Vulnerable
1996 Vulnerable

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description: Hippocampus kuda occur throughout south east Asia, Australia, Japan, and some of the Pacific islands, including Hawaii (Lourie et al. 1999).
Australia (Northern Territory, Queensland); Fiji; French Polynesia; Hong Kong; India; Indonesia; Japan; Malaysia; Micronesia, Federated States of ; New Caledonia; Pakistan; Papua New Guinea; Philippines; Singapore; Solomon Islands; Taiwan, Province of China; Thailand; Tonga; United States (Hawaiian Is.); Viet Nam
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Pacific – eastern central; 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 its range. For example, 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). 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: This species is found in shallow inshore waters up to 40–50 m deep; mangroves; seagrass beds; estuaries; and on steep mud slopes (R. Kuiter, pers. comm. in Lourieet al. 1999). It has also been recorded from open water and attached to drifting Sargassum up to 20 km away from land (Kuiter and Debelius 1994).

This species may be particularly susceptible to decline. The limited information on habitat suggests they inhabit shallow areas (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 kuda is caught and traded for traditional medicines, aquaria and curios throughout its range (Vincent and Perry, in prep.). It is one of the most valuable seahorses in traditional Chinese medicine (Vincent and Perry, in prep.), is a popular aquarium fish (Lourie et al. 1999) and is caught in India for the traditional medicine trade (Marichamy et al. 1993). 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 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).

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. 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. They are listed as vulnerable in the National Red Data Books in Singapore and Viet Nam. In France it is illegal to import seahorses under the name H. kuda.

Citation: Project Seahorse 2003. Hippocampus kuda. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.2. <>. Downloaded on 23 October 2014.
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