Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024
Sunset, Kailua-Kona, The Big Island, Hawaii, March 11, 2024

Monday, December 5, 2016

Seahorses and Liquid Sunshine - Thurs., Dec. 1, 2016

"Rain, rain go away, come again another day." 
(I'm sure our San Antonio friends can relate to this right now!)

Our morning view - lots of rain
Mother Nature had other plans. Not only didn't the rain go away, it definitely will be coming another day here in Hawaii. The Big Island is under flash flood warnings until 5 pm tomorrow. All I can say is, it's a good thing we went to the volcano on Monday! The Hilo/Volcano side of the island is getting the brunt of the rain.

What has the head of a horse, a prehensile tail like a monkey, a kangaroo-like pouch and eyes like a chameleon? You can probably guess from the title of my blog (and it's not the liquid sunshine!).

The Big Island has an area I've been wanting to visit, but in 25 years of traveling to Hawaii Island, we never made it to the aquaculture area near the Kona International Airport. At the entrance to the aquaculture farms is the National Energy Lab, which is involved with some of the research. 

The National Energy Lab studies making electricity using cold water from the deep ocean (3,000 ft down). The cold water is pumped to the Energy Lab and energy is generated by mixing the cold water with warmer shallow water. The mixing of the different temperatures creates electricity. This is called Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC).

Businesses benefiting from pumping cold deep water to the business park are many aquaculture farms who are trying to farm endangered sea creatures: seahorses, sea dragons, lobsters, octopi, and abalone to name a few. These species on the edge of extinction got that way because of habitat destruction, pollution, and over-fishing to provide animals for the pet and medicine trades. 

At 10 am this morning, we had a reservation to tour Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. It was sprinkling when we arrived at 9:30 am. By 10 am, the sun was blazing hot and we were standing under it to listen to our tour guide. 

The first thing she taught us is that seahorses eat brine shrimp, lots of them. So they grow their own brine shrimp at the farm in a turbid pool of salt water. A little later in the tour, we would get to feed the seahorses. She set about using a dip net to collect brine shrimp for us to see.

Looking out at the Pacific

Our guide netting brine shrimp
Here are the brine shrimp

Quite a few people were on the tour
Our first stop inside the building was to look at baby seahorses. No photography was allowed there. 

Did you know seahorses are the only animals in which the there is a true male pregnancy, impregnated by the female? The seahorse pregnancy lasts 30 days. The seahorse has between 500-700,000 baby seahorses. You have to realize in the wild there are many predators. Even though seahorses are quite prolific, only 0.01% survive in the wild, that's one out of every 10,000. In captivity at the Seahorse Farm, they are getting a 50% survival rate and are able to supply most of the world's aquarium supply demand. This has cut down on the number of seahorses taken from the oceans by collectors who sell to the aquarium trade.

From the baby seahorses, we went outside to a covered area where larger seahorses were in blue plastic tanks. We learned that seahorses do not last long in captivity. 

We were able to feed the seahorses brine shrimp
It's fun to watch the seahorses eat. Seahorses do not have mouths that open and close with teeth. When we dropped the brine shrimp in the tanks, the seahorses hoovered them up just like a vacuum cleaner. 

Seahorses are monogamous and mate for life. When seahorses are separated from their mates they become depressed and die sooner. Seahorse Farms is raising seahorses in big social groups in tanks. If a seahorse pair becomes separated, the remaining seahorse realizes there are other fish in the sea, so to speak. 
Social seahorses like to hang onto each other
A pair of seahorses
At the end of our tour, we were able to put our hands in a tank of seahorses and have them hang onto us, as if we were a reef. One of the people who worked at the farm would assist us individually. That was so cool!

One of the owners showing me how to hold
my hands to make them look like coral.
Here I am with "my" seahorse. 
How cool is this?
Bob's turn...
Bob now has a seahorse
Bob with "his" seahorse


When the tour ended, we were taken into a small sea horse and sea dragon museum. There are 20 different endangered seahorse species at the seahorse farm. Here are a few of my better photos. (It's hard to photograph these critters in their aquariums!)

Weedy sea dragons
Weedy sea dragons

We thought this tour was highly educational, not to mention fun and interesting. If you ever go to the Big Island, we recommend you visit the Ocean Rider Seahorse Farm. 

I will continue this blog in Part 2. 

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