Saltwater Gallery - Species
Species Spotlight: Sea of Cortez
Pacific Seahorse (Hippocampus ingens)
Photo © Liz Kemp
- The Pacific Seahorse is the only type of seahorse found in the Gulf of California. It is one of the largest species, growing up to a foot in length. Living among corals, sea fans, sea whips, and sea grasses, they can live up to 4-6 years. They don't swim very well and can die from exhaustion in high currents, which can result from severe weather. They swim upright, which is very different from other aquatic life. Even though it may appear otherwise, they lack scales. Seahorses have a small crown on them called a coral net, which varies from individual to individual. Seahorses have neither teeth nor stomach. Thus, they swallow food whole and have to eat constantly due to the fast process of digestion.
Horn Shark (Heterodontus francisci)
Juvenile - Photo © Liz Kemp
- Horn Sharks are a species of bullhead shark endemic to the coastal waters off the western coast of North America, from California to the Gulf of California. They are a small, slow-moving, benthic species. Their common name refers to a sharp spine in front of both dorsal fins (which is great protection, like injuring the roof of your mouth when you bite down on the corner of a tortilla chip!) Typically they are nocturnal, when they forage for benthic invertebrates like hard-shelled crustaceans, echinoderms, and crustaceans, which they crush between their powerful jaws and molar-like teeth. To crack shells, they generate the highest known bite force relative to its size of any shark. They have been known to "pounce" on anemones to bite off tentacles before being retracted. They capture prey by using forcible suction created by expanding the buccal cavity. They will also use a levering motion of the body with the pectoral fins for support.
- California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica)
Like our seahorses, these herbivorous marine mollusks are produced through aquaculture. In the wild they are part of the marine coastal community in the Pacific Ocean from northern California to Baja California. Individuals can often be found on their algal food, and aggregate in large numbers near food in the summer months (June - August) when they breed.
The name "sea hare" comes from the sensory tentacles on the top of their head, called rhinophores, which are somewhat reminiscent of rabbit's ears. Unlike other gastropods, sea hares don't have a large external shell in which to retreat. Instead, they have a small, flat, vestigial shell, the consistency of cardboard, covering the viscera and nominally protecting the heart and other internal organs.
More than just an ocean oddity, sea hares have the potential of benefitting humankind. IN 2000, Dr. Eric Kandel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for research into how neurons form and store memories. For this research, he used neurons from sea hares and mice. Other studies of sea hares have led to drugs now in clinical trials aimed at reversing memory loss in patients with degenerative mental diseases. In other words, drugs currently being tested to reverse Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's have been developed thanks to the humble California Sea Hare!