In Pursuit of Pygmy Seahorses

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Pygmy seahorse

The scene is a hotel room in Anilao, Philippines. Our heroine is standing over a console table, assembling an underwater camera, when her husband enters the room with news from their dive guide.

HUSBAND: The boat is going looking for pygmy seahorses today. How big are they, anyway?

Our heroine looks up, instinctively making a gesture with her thumb and forefinger suggesting about an inch, but seems less certain as she begins to waffle bigger and smaller. The husband smirks at her indecision.


Cut to underwater. The dive guide signals for our heroine's attention and begins to methodically pick through a purple gorgonian fan, despite the fact that it appears completely barren of life.

He points at a spot on the fan. She squints.

He points again, and a piece of the fan no larger than her pinky fingernail moves slightly. She squints. Recognition washes over her face as it registers that pygmy seahorses are much, much smaller than she had originally thought.

Photographing pygmy seahorses is going to take some work.


How to find pygmy seahorses

Finding pygmy seahorses is tricky and generally laden with a lot of false starts. The first step is to find a gorgonian. In my experience, the seahorses on the pink/purple gorgonians are the easiest (I use this term loosely) to find.

It helps at this point to use your hand to fan the debris off the fan. You're looking for movement, and any moving debris can trick your eyes.

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Gorgonian fan coral


Next, scrutinize the fan. Using your light helps, as does placing one hand behind the coral to see if a seahorse turns away from your hand (and toward you).

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Diver searching for pygmy seahorses on a gorgonian

Pygmy seahorses are incredibly well camouflaged, so give yourself a pat on the back if you find one :)

A figurative pat on the back, that is. If you take your eyes off the pygmy seahorse or stop pointing at it for a second, I guarantee you will lose it.

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Purple pygmy seahorse

They are relatively social creatures, so have a look around to see if there are more individuals nearby.

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Pygmy seahorses


They can also be found on yellow gorgonians!

Anilao, Batangas, Philippines: Yellow pygmy seahorse

Do you have any strategies for sleuthing out these little creatures? Please let me know in the comments!


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