A Seadragon Birthday

Our First Hatched Baby Seadragon Turns 1!

Following in the footsteps of our successful Seahorse Propagation Program, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, Birch Aquarium’s husbandry team is developing a propagation program for seadragons. Found only off the coast of Australia, seadragons are endangered and breeding programs such as ours can help protect these beautiful animals in the wild. In August 2013, we completed construction of our Seadragon Propagation Lab. Shortly after, on September 23, 2013, we experienced the hatching of our first baby weedy seadragons.

Of this momentous brood, a juvenile seadragon can now celebrate a first birthday at Birch Aquarium at Scripps. He (although it could be a she; we won’t know the sex for another 1-2 years) is now approximately 8 inches (21 cm) long. With a bit more growing to do, this dragon can grow to 17 inches within a few years.

Soon, this juvenile seadragon will join the adult weedy seadragons in the breeding tank in the aquarium’s Seadragon Propagation Lab. It has been fascinating to raise baby weedy seadragons for the first time. Weedy seadragons grow quickly during their first year and change so much during this exciting period. They begin to develop their oversized, characteristic “weedy” appendages that allow for better hiding. Also, now as a sub-adult, he is eating live adult mysis shrimp, as opposed to the live larval brine shrimp and 1-7 day old mysis shrimp he was fed when first born.

 

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(Clockwise from the upper left)  1 day old, 3 1/2 months old, 6 months old, and almost 1 year old!

See Inside the Lab

In the Seadragon Propagation Lab, we have set up lighting systems to regulate the day length and moon phase to simulate seasonal changes. This system also simulates the gradual light changes during sunrise and sunset. We also simulate seasonal water temperature changes as well. We believe this will give the weedy seadragons environmental cues to stimulate a natural breeding process.

We have set up a video surveillance system to monitor and record the weedy seadragons’ behaviors. We are hoping to capture an egg transfer from female to male, something we have not yet witnessed.

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Behind the scenes of our seadragon propagation room

We have been working with Scripps scientist Greg Rouse on our propagation program and if we are able to record the breeding process on video, we will be able to share what we find with Greg and his fellow Scripps researchers for more investigation. We will also be setting up the video system so aquarium visitors will be able to view, in real time, the weedy seadragons in the seadragon propagation room from a video monitor just outside the room. This will give our visitors a chance to see the seadragons and show what we are doing with our Seadragon Propagation Program.

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Current cameras that capture seadragon activity

There has been much courting behavior occurring in our breeding tank and three females were gravid (carrying eggs) and released eggs. Unfortunately, the males were not receptive and did not accept the eggs from the females. We are hopeful though that in the near future, we will have a successful egg transfer and will be able to document and study it.

See what weedy seadragon eggs look like below.

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April 29, 2014: Female releasing eggs in breeding tank in seadragon propagation room

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Weedy seadragon eggs

We appreciate the support of the Lowe Family Foundation of our Seadragon Propagation Program. We have had a tremendous year watching our baby weedy seadragon grow and look forward to the day we have another brood of baby weedy seadragons to celebrate at Birch Aquarium!

Read Leslee’s other seadragon blog posts.

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  • Ehson Salaami
    October 26, 2014 at 4:59 am

    What amazing pictures. Thanks for sharing. Was just curious… how come it takes so long to identify the sex of the seadragon?

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego