Seadragons, Part 1: Traveling ‘Down Under’ to Study Seadragons

Leafy seadragons are native to southern Australia.

Leafy seadragon

By Leslee Matsushige, Birch Aquarium co-curator

“I never knew a fish like this existed!”

We often hear comments like this from visitors standing in front of our seadragon tanks. These remarkable fish – relatives of seahorses – are beautifully colored with leaf-shaped appendages that help them blend into their native Australian waters.

But many aspects of seadragon biology, including their secretive mating behavior, are unknown. To date, no one has ever observed the breeding interaction between males and females of either leafy or weedy seadragons, the only two seadragon species.

This week, I have the incredibly opportunity of traveling “down under” to study these animals in the wild. I am joining Scripps Institution of Oceanography professor Greg Rouse, who has researched seadragons for many years. We will be diving in known seadragon habitats in Sydney, Melbourne, and Adelaide and will also visit our friends at Melbourne Aquarium, arguably the world’s experts on weedy seadragons.

Greg and I will apply everything we learn into efforts to breed seadragons here at Birch Aquarium at Scripps. With the support of a $300,000 grant from the Lowe Family Foundation, the aquarium is aiming to launch one of the world’s first seadragon breeding programs (you may have read about us in this recent Washington Post article, “Farming Aquarium Species to Save Them”).

Leslee Matsushige, Birch Aquarium at Scripps co-curator, works in aquarium’s seahorse nursery.

Birch Aquarium is a perfect fit for this program. Over the past 17 years, we’ve raised 12 species of seahorses and shipped more than 3,000 specimens to aquariums and zoos worldwide through our successful Seahorse Propagation Program.

But we want to do more.

I’ll be posting photos and videos during my trip. I hope you check back to see what we’re experiencing in Australia.

In the meantime, check out this video below about Greg Rouse’s seadragon research in the e-explorations article, Flight of the Dragons.

See you Down Under!






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  • Terri Franklin
    April 26, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    Can’t wait for these photos and to follow your trip.
    This is awesome, a wonderful opportunity!!
    Best Wishes,

  • Meredith Caccese McConvill
    April 26, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    Looking forward to reading more updates as I studied at UNSW in Sydney. Never had the chance to see the seadragons though. Have fun Leslee!

  • STEMinist Profile: Leslee Matsushige, Aquarium Co-Curator | STEMinist
    November 26, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    […] in La Paz, Baja Mexico, and along the California coast to bring back to Birch Aquarium; and diving in South Australia to study weedy and leafy sea dragons. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is fascinating […]

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego