Pet of the Day

April 15, 1999

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Hoover, the Pet of the Day
Name: Hoover
Age: Two years old
Gender: Male
Kind: Seahorse (hippocampus kuda)
Home: California, USA
   Whatever you do, don't let Hoover hear you say that fish have no personality! Hoover is indeed correctly termed a fish, wearing his skeleton on the outside of his body. He was named after a brand of vacuum cleaner, which is sort of what seahorses mimic when they eat. The food is sucked up rapidly into what appears to be his snout, but which is actually his mouth. He eats live brine shrimp and arthropods found in the ocean. His brothers are Kirby (also named for a vacuum brand) and Whinney (hey, they are seaHORSES!)

    The males actually carry and give birth to their young. Hoov loves to attach his tail to my finger when he swims by it. Grasping coral or plant life in the ocean gives them stability against the flowing currents in the sea and they retain this instinct in captivity. Their life span is about three years in captivity, longer than in the wild due to predatory and environmental conditions. But they are very sensitive fish and are not easy to keep! Their habitat must be closely monitored and duplicate the conditions of nature. (Without the harmful aspects, of course!) Hoover was in an aquarium store with his brothers when I walked in to kill some time while waiting for the store next to it to open. Once I laid eyes on them, I'd forgotten about my other task and spent an hour on the floor next to their tank. I'd always wanted fish, but was struck by the beauty and gracefulness of the seahorse. That was it; I was sold. I bought a huge amount of supplies based on the technical expertise of the store manager and waited a month to prepare the tank for its new inhabitants. (You must make sure you have grown some good bacteria and stabilized the environment in the tank before introducing your new fish.)

    I couldn't decide whether I wanted one horse or two, but I figured that out fast enough. If you practice anthropomorphism, hehe, the decision is easy. If I bought one horse, it would be lonely. If I bought two of them, the third left in the store would be lonely. I bought all three. Case dismissed. :o)

    Seahorses are extremely difficult to keep, as the water quality must be perfect at all times. This includes temperature, saline level, cleanliness and PH balance. There are many other concerns, but I'll spare you the novel at this time. They are probably the most sensitive fish in the ocean.

    Hoover is probably the least active of the three, but he has touched my heart in ways no human can. He hovers near the bottom of the tank most often, gazing around for an unsuspecting brine shrimp to cruise by. Everything a seahorse does is slow, except eat. They move very slowly toward the shrimp and, when they're quite ready (and not a second before), they'll jerk their snouts outward and suck the shrimp up faster than you can blink. Honest, you can't see the shrimp disappear!

    There's no real pecking order between my boys. As I said, they're peaceful and totally noncompetitive, which is why, if one is to keep seahorses, that must be the only species in the tank. They'd starve if put with other animals. They are quite passive.

    Sometimes, they'll all link tails, but it is my understanding that this is not a sign of affection, it's simply something to link a tail to. Their tails are "prehensile," which means it can wrap around plants, coral, or just about anything small enough to grab. My guys are approximately five inches long, but there are varieties as small as one inch and as large as twelve inches! The males, as I mentioned before, give birth to about 3000 (yep, three thousand!) young, but unless those babies are removed immediately, they become food for mom and dad horse.

    I strongly discourage keeping seahorses unless one is determined to be completely dedicated, in the form of time, effort and education, to their care. I was fortunate enough to become friends with a marine biologist at the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco who provided me with a wealth of information on their care. I became the "seahorse consultant", if you will, of all the local aquarium stores.

    I'm sorry I don't have any "exciting" news to report on their activities. At the risk of being redundant, they're passive, slow-moving, graceful and peaceful.... quite mezmerizing, but not acrobatically inclined.

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