A pygmy seahorse about the size of a grain of rice was recently discovered in Sodwana Bay, South Africa.
The discovery, which was published in the journal ZooKeys on 19 May 2020, ultimately shocked researchers "because all seven species of pygmy seahorse, except for one in Japan, inhabit the Coral Triangle, a biodiverse region in the southwestern Pacific", according to National Geographic.
The new seahorse subsequently lives almost 8 000 km away, which makes it the first pygmy seahorse seen in all of the Indian Ocean and the continent of Africa.
"It's like finding a kangaroo in Norway," says Richard Smith, a marine biologist based in the United Kingdom and co-author of a new study on the species, known as the African or Sodwana Bay pygmy seahorse. The second name refers to the location where it was found, a popular scuba-diving spot close to the Mozambique border.
SUPER EXCITING news! Colleagues and I have just named the new Sodwana Pygmy Seahorse (Hippocampus nalu) from South Africa. The first pygmy known from the Indian Ocean!!! https://t.co/xm5OGhzuA2 pic.twitter.com/tL9KAw88KA— Dr Richard Smith (@Rich_Underwater) May 19, 2020
The African or Sodwana Bay pygmy seahorse
It is said that the new species looks somewhat similar to other pygmy seahorses, except that it has one set of spines on its back that have sharp, incisor-like points on the tips, says co-author Graham Short, an ichthyologist at the California Academy of Sciences and the Australian Museum in Sydney.
In contrast, the other similar pygmy seahorses have flat-tipped spines.
"We really don't know what these spines are used for," Short says. "Many species of seahorses in general are spiny, so their presence could be possibly due to sexual selection—the females may prefer spinier males."
National Geographic further reports that dive instructor Savannah Nalu Olivier first stumbled upon the creature in Sodwana Bay in 2017, while examining bits of algae on the seafloor.
She shared photographs of the fish with her colleagues, and in 2018 they made their way to Smith, who, with colleague Louw Claassens, collected several specimens of the animal at depths of 40 to 55 feet.
The researchers have named the new seahorse Hippocampus nalu, after Olivier, whose nickname is appropriately "Fish." (She's also a Pisces.) In the South African languages Xhosa and Zulu, "nalu" roughly translates to "here it is."
"I told her that this was a gift from the sea," says Louis Olivier, Savannah's father, who owns a scuba diving outfit called Pisces Diving Sodwana Bay. He adds he's "super stoked about her discovery."