Seahorses – Magical Fish

More on the magical seahorse on this video from the California Academy of Science, with Healy Hamilton discussing the dramatic decline of seahorses all over the world.

The huge economic boom in China means even more trouble for seahorse populations, as seahorses are highly sought after for use in traditional Chinese medicines.

US Customs at the San Francisco airport recently confiscated a shipment of at least 1,000 seahorses, and the US Fish and Wildlife turned over the dried seahorses to the California Academy of Sciences to help determine their source.

All species of seahorses are internationally protected and no one is supposed to be harvesting seahorses…but the problem of course… enforcement.

INTRODUCTION: The destruction of coral reefs, trawling and the use of seahorses in Chinese medicine is leading to their decline. How do we stop this near-mythical sea creature from becoming extinct? “Wired” interviews Academy researcher, Healy Hamilton, to discuss this unique fish and the dangers that threaten them.

Also…here again is the link to Alex Pronove’s blog and his informative post on sea dragons (and seahorses) and the supply chain and market.  Click  here – or click on his photo below.

Photo by: Alex Pronove

Don’t forget…the Seahorse Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium will be closing this summer. Click here for more information.

The sea otter’s one-eyed peek

Sea Otter Photo from Monterey Bay Aquarium Website

I find sea otters so adorable, and it is worth going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium just to watch their antics up close.

Sea otters are protected as a threatened species under the 1972 Endangered Species Act, and small populations can be found along the coasts of Russia, Alaska and Central California.

By the 1900’s, the Southern sea otter was thought to be extinct due to being intensely hunted for their warm, luxurious pelt.  But in 1915, biologists discovered that a group of about 50 otters had survived in a remote Big Sur cove.  In order to protect these last survivors, the biologists kept them a secret — up until 1938.  These biologist were great secret-keepers!

That secret — and protection under the Endangered Species Act — have helped to increase the sea otter population on the California coast to around 2,500.   This is still a small number and other environmental risks like a major oil spill remains a serious threat to the population.

Jeff took these pictures of a napping sea otter, on the terrace,right outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  They anchor themselves with kelp so they do not drift away while resting.

Napping sea otter anchored in kelp, outside the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Suddenly, this otter’s (one) eye popped open…

Are you looking at ME?

So okay, upon closer look, it is possible that both eyes were open…it’s just from the angle of the photograph, it looked like the otter was giving us a one-eyed peek.

Why are sea otters important?  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website,

Sea otters are an iconic species, representing the beauty and diversity of life in Monterey Bay. They’re also a keystone species, helping keep ocean ecosystems in balance. They eat sea urchins and other invertebrates that graze on giant kelp. Without sea otters, these grazing animals can destroy kelp forests and the animals that live there.

Sea otters are also good indicators of ocean health. Since they are the top predator of invertebrates along the Central California coast, changes in their health can make scientists aware of variations in the ocean environment itself.

It is fascinating that the California sea otters we see today are all descended from that tiny Big Sur colony!

And so, though they do still struggle, this fact gives me hope that the endangered Philippine Eagle (see my post earlier this month) may rebound if we are able to keep intact, their remaining forest home.

Photo from the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Saving Sea Otters

For cool sea otter facts — like the fact that they have the densest fur in the world, of up to a million hairs PER SQUARE INCH (compared to 100,000 hairs on our entire head  — or less for some of us)click here or visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program web page.

Males who get pregnant and give birth? Learn more at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

In case you live in the area and have not been to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a while, now is a great time to visit.  With much less crowds, you can relax, take in the beauty of the exhibits, get inspired and take pictures of your favorite creatures with ease.

Also, it is a good opportunity to check out the fascinating exhibit, The Secret Lives of Seahorses, which will be closing in August this year.

I posted an article about seahorses and our visit to the aquarium with our grandsons last year (click here to view).

And yes, there really are  males in the animal kingdom who become pregnant and give birth.  It’s the extraordinary seahorse!

From the Monterey Bay Aquarium on the seahorse exhibit:

Seahorses, sea dragons, pipehorses and pipefishes come in many shapes and sizes, but beneath the surface they’re all fish, with fused jaws and bony plates in place of the scales normally associated with fish.

Perhaps what most distinguishes seahorses from the rest of the animal kingdom is their unique life history—the males become pregnant and give birth. Seahorse fathers shelter their young in protective pouches, while sea dragon and pipefish fathers carry their young on spongy patches on the undersides of their tails.

And on a related topic, I recently learned about blogger Alex Pronove— who returned to the Philippines and now lives in the Palawan area, and writes about “discovering my new island home”.  Check out his informative post on sea dragons (and seahorses) and the supply chain and market here – or click on his photo below.

Photo: Alex Pronove


Haring Ibon: The magnificent and critically endangered Philippine eagle

Photograph by Klaus Nigge, National Geographic

Many countries use symbols from nature to represent their nation.  These symbols are on flags, coat of arms, official seals and patriotic material  (e.g., the bald eagle for the United States, the Malayan tiger in Malaysia, llamas and condors for Bolivia and Columbia).

In the Philippines, one of the nation’s symbol is the Philippine Eagle, pithecophaga jefferyi – and referred to as “haring ibon” or king bird.  It is among the rarest and most powerful birds in the world.   In 1995, it was designated as the national bird as well as an official  symbol of the Philippines.

The Philippine eagle is one of only four official national symbols enacted through a proclamation by the executive department.  The others are the sampaguita flower, the narra tree, and arnis — the traditional Philippine martial arts, also known as eskrima.

Photo by Harry Asuncion Balais

Sadly, the Philippine Eagle is critically endangered.

Its habitat is the forest, and only 5% is all that remains of the Philippines’ virgin forest.

Although this eagle is one of the largest raptors in the world, it is defenseless against logging — both legal and illegal — that have diminished its home.

These days, it can only be found on four Philippine islands: Mindanao, Luzon, Samar and Leyte.

Photograph by Klaus Nigge –

Among bird — and especially raptor— enthusiast, the Philippine eagle is considered to be a truly magnificent bird.  While most raptors have yellow or brown eyes, this eagle has a more uncommon blue-gray eye color.  Its average height is over 3 feet tall, and with a wingspan of over 6 feet, it is among the largest birds on our planet.

Lord of the Forest – Photograph by Klaus Nigge for National Geographic

The February, 2008 issue of National Geographic featured an article on the Philippine eagle by nature writer Mel White, with amazing photographs by Klaus Nigge.

Mel White writes about how the potential loss of this eagle “would steal some of the world’s wonder”.  Excerpt from the article  “Lord of the Forest, can the Philippine eagle survive in the shrinking forests of its island home” below:

If the irrevocable transition of one species from rarity to extinction causes a rent in the fabric of our planet, exactly how big a hole would be left by the loss of the Philippine eagle?

No disrespect is meant to the basking malachite damselfly or the fine-lined pocketbook mussel, because all creatures—and plants too—help turn the infinitely complex cogs of the biosphere.

But the loss of this glorious bird would steal some of the world’s wonder. It glides through its sole habitat, the rain forests of the Philippines, powerful wings spread to seven feet, navigating the tangled canopy with unexpected precision.

It is possible that no one has ever described this rare raptor, one of the world’s largest, without using the word “magnificent.” If there are those who did, then heaven heal their souls.

Philippine Eagle Photograph by Klaus Nigge –

In the kind of irony all too familiar to conservationists, however, the very evolutionary adaptations that made it magnificent have also made it one of the planet’s most endangered birds of prey.

There is no competition for prey from tigers, leopards, bears, or wolves in the Philippine archipelago, the eagle’s only home, so it became, by default, the king of the rain forest.

Expanding into an empty ecological niche, it grew to a length of three feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds. A nesting pair requires 25 to 50 square miles of forest to find enough prey—mammals such as flying lemurs and monkeys; snakes; and other birds—to feed themselves and the single young they produce every other year.

“The birds had the islands all to themselves, and they grew big,” says Filipino biologist Hector Miranda, who has studied the eagles extensively. “But it was a trade-off, because the forest that created them is almost gone. And when the forest disappears—well, they’re at an evolutionary dead-end.”

The Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) list the Philippine eagle in the “Threatened” category, and specifically, as “Critically Endangered“.

Photo of Philippine Eagle by Nigel Voaden / IUCN Web Site

IUCN conservation statuses

There are 3 stages within the “threatened” category:

  • Vulnerable
  • Endangered
  • Critically Endangered

Critically Endangered is the highest risk category assigned by the IUCN Red List for wild species, and it means that a species’ numbers have decreased, or will decrease, by 80% within three generations.

We must do what we can and work to save these creatures as next on the IUCN list is the symbol EW – extinct in the wild —- and then, EX – EXTINCT!

Extinction Extinction Extinct in the Wild Critically Endangered Endangered species Vulnerable species Near Threatened Threatened species Least Concern Least Concern

Although the Philippine Wildlife Act 9147 prohibits the killing, collection, possession, and maltreatment of wildlife, poachers — and perhaps those who do not know about the plight of these birds — continue to capture and harm Philippine eagles.

Last year, four birds were rescued from captivity by the Philippine Eagle Foundation (PEF).  A Philippine Star article by Edith Regalado, quotes PEF Executive director Dennis Salvador:

The abuse and harm caused on Philippine eagles illustrate our reckless management of our natural resources. If the Philippine eagle, which is already perhaps the most prominent and recognizable of Philippine wildlife species, suffers a fate as grim as the above four eagles have experienced, how much more other species? What bigger injustices could possibly be happening to the rest of the Philippine environment?” Salvador explained.

Salvador said crimes committed against nature have a much bigger impact than we can imagine, like the deforestation that caused landslides in Leyte.

“We condemn these acts of violence against nature and call on our fellow Filipinos to adopt more sustainable paths towards progress. Our economy is built on natural resources – the indiscriminate killing and plunder of these resources is not development. This will only bring us several steps backward,” Salvador added.

Philippine Eagle (Pithecophaga jeffery) in flight.  Female delivering twig to nest tree, Lantapan, Mount Kitanglad, Mindanao, Philippines. Photo by Klaus Nigge

As I write this post, and look at these photographs, I am saddened by thoughts of how close these creatures are to being extinct.  I hope it is not too late for these magnificent birds, and a national symbol for the Philippines.

Photo of captive eagle by Klaus Nigge

The same decimated forests that caused these birds to be critically endangered have caused havoc to human beings.

Deforestation is also the root cause of many mudslides and devastating floods that have killed thousands of people in the Philippines.

The most recent being the December, 2011 Typhoon Sendong that struck Northern Mindanao, the Visayas and Palawan and killed over 1,000 souls, and left tens of thousands homeless.

Perhaps by saving these magnificent creatures and what remains of their forest home, we can prevent future disasters and save lives.  Save the forest, save the eagles….and save ourselves?

Time is running out for the Philippine eagle.  If you can help, please click here to help the Philippine Eagle Foundation.

Related Links:

Photograph by Klaus Nigge

Stunning Photographs of the Philippine Eagle by German Photographer Klaus Nigge – can be viewed on his website or visit the National Geographic article “Lord of the Forest” for more of Klaus Nigge’s photographs as well as videos.  I was in awe…and I promise you will be too.


Eagle Print by David Tomb –

The Jeepney Projects

Art for Conservation

Fine art prints to raise money for research and public outreach/education about the eagle and it’s plight and the need for conservation of habitat where it still survives.

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) – mission to help the world find
pragmatic solutions to our most pressing environment and development challenges

Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE) – Fostering Partnerships for the Environment

FPE’s mission is to be a catalyst for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development of communities in critical sites.

Christian Artuso Birds, Wildlife – post on Christian’s Mindanao trip, and birding, conservation, ecology and animal behavior topics.  Except from post:  As you have no doubt gathered from reading through these posts, the level of endemism on the Philippines is extraordinary. In fact, the Philippines not only boasts over 200 endemic species….

ARKive ( – videos of the Philippine eagle.  ARKive’s mission is promoting the conservation of the world’s threatened species, through the power of wildlife imagery.

“A vast treasury of wildlife images has been steadily accumulating over the past century, yet no one has known its full extent – or indeed its gaps – and no one has had a comprehensive way of gaining access to it. ARKive will put that right, and it will be an invaluable tool for all concerned with the well-being of the natural world.”

Sir David Attenborough -Wildscreen Patron