Breeding bonanza at Weymouth Sea Life Park

Dorset Echo: Emily Madge with some of the baby seahorses Emily Madge with some of the baby seahorses

THERE’S a breeding bonanza under way in the behind-the-scenes seahorse breeding station at Weymouth Sea Life Park.

And according to her colleagues, it’s all thanks to the special talents of new seahorse ‘midwife’ Emily Madge.

Since 22-year-old Emily took up the post just 12 week ago, a litter of baby spiny seahorses, dozens of baby tropical zebra-snouted seahorses and literally hundreds of closely-related pipefish have been born.

“We’ve never had so many offspring all at the same time,” said Emily’s colleague, jellyfish breeding expert Ruth Dawson.

“She’s the marine-life equivalent of the green-fingered gardener. She just has the knack.”

In the wild only one or two babies from every litter would survive the wide range of natural hazards they face, from predation by other fish and pollution to sudden changes in sea temperature.

Emily, however, has already nurtured her copious baby hedgehog seahorses through the delicate early stages to be well over a month old, and the 34 baby spiny seahorses are six weeks old and counting.

Emily has been so successful in fact, that she has run out of nursery tanks for them all, and several babies have now been transferred to suitable tanks in the park’s public displays.

Her colleagues may wonder how she does it, but to Emily – a marine biology graduate from Aberystwyth – there is no mystery.

“It’s just a matter of checking tanks constantly to maintain the right temperatures and water qualities, and making sure you deliver the right sort of food in the right quantities at the right intervals,” she insists.

Emily’s assorted seahorse and pipefish broods will be grown until big enough to be sent to SeaLife centres all across Europe.

Britain’s two seahorse species can both be found along the Dorset coast.

Recent changes to the Wildlife and Countryside Act announced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) mean that the short-snouted and spiny or long- snouted seahorses will benefit from the full protection of the law from April 6.

Research undertaken by the trust has shown that seahorses have been seen in Weymouth Bay, Kimmeridge and Poole.

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