14-year-old Chloe Brown and her father Chris have an unusual pastime together: recording the secret lives of seahorses off the Dorset coast.
The two, who are volunteer divers for the Seahorse Trust, hope to track the fish off Weymouth Bay during the winter to record their behavior.
Mr. Brown said: “This is the first year I intend to dive throughout the year to confirm whether seahorses stay in the same territory all year.”
After passing her Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) open water diver qualification, Chloe decided to partner with her father, who was awarded the investigation license from the Weymouth-based charity.
He said: “There will be very cold dives, but we want to know if these seahorses that we have been following for four months will stay low in the winter or go deeper.”
Mr. Brown, who has cared for and raised seahorses in aquariums for more than 20 years, said: “There is still so much unknown about their secret lives.
“It is really important to learn more about their population dynamics and how they use these amazing seagrass habitats.”
Armed with a blackboard and pencil, a flashlight, a compass to navigate, a measuring wheel and a camera, the two perform their surveys by slowly swimming, parallel to each other over the algae, hoping to spot some fluttering fins or a tail wrapped around some algae.
It’s a delicate procedure, lasting up to 90 minutes, involving hovering in the water or resting on the sea floor often “with only fingers and knees or fin tips supporting us,” Chloe said.
“They are very difficult to spot and usually blend in with their surroundings.
“Sometimes you can see their silhouette clearly, but sometimes if they hide with their heads down, you just won’t find them,” he added.
Chloe said: “I can identify the different seahorses by their markings … they all have unique spots on their face and body.
“When we find a seahorse, I stand back and watch it as my father photographs both sides of it for identification.
“As he walks away, I walk up and take some photos and see if I can identify them underwater.”
During a dive they often see one of two seahorses which they hope will help with the winter project.
“A male we named ‘Snailhead’ – because he had a snail on top of his crown the first time we saw him and a female we think is his mate – ‘Snailless’!
“Their territories seem to overlap, but we’ve never seen them both in the same dive. Hopefully the polls will tell us more about how big their territories are,” Chloe said.
Once back on land, the two of them write a detailed report of each dive and send it to the Seahorse Trust. Reports are collected by the trust annually and submitted to the Marine Management Organization (MMO).
The couple, who started their weekly dives in September, plan to reveal the results of their winter dives in the spring.
There are two species around the British coast, the thorny seahorse and the short-nosed seahorse
Seahorses are fish. They live in water, breathe through their gills, and have a swim bladder
Seahorses eat small crustaceans such as Mysis Shrimp. An adult eats 30-50 times a day
Seahorses have excellent eyesight and their eyes are able to work independently on either side of the head
The females have a territory of about 100 square meters and the males have a territory of about 0.5 square meters. Their territories overlap
It is illegal to kill, catch or disturb seahorses in British waters
The habitat where seahorses are found is also protected, which means that if you find a seahorse in a seagrass bed, that seahorse bed is protected.
Source: The trust of the seahorse
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