While it has nothing to do with my research, trawling is one of the most fun things I get to do, so I jump at every opportunity that I can to make a trip (as I have blogged about a few times before). Recently, we took some summer camp kids from Southampton Bath and Tennis Club out on the boat to do some fun trawling. This group of kids was one of the most enthusiastic group I have been on a boat with. They were all excited to get out on the water, and didn’t hesitate to dig into the tray full of algae and seagrass to pick out all the little critters.
The catches didn’t yield too much out of the ordinary – flounder, crabs, tomcod, sticklebacks, pipefish, shrimp, the usual things we typically get. But we did get a lot of them. We seemingly were constantly pulling baby winter flounder out of the catch tray (I want to guess they were all young of the year, but there was a range of sizes, so it could be a couple of year classes). There were a lot of blue crabs which we removed before the kids could dig in. And there was so many pipefish, including many pregnant males (yes, male pipefish carry the young, and apparently, will abort eggs from “unattractive” partners).
We even caught a few tropical fish. This time of year we typically catch tropical fish which come up in the Gulf Stream and get transported into Long Island south shore waters in meandering eddies. We typicallys start to see butterfly fish, some gray snappers, occasionally small groupers, cowfish, burrfish, and file fish.
But the real star of the show this week was the seahorse. Seahorses are native to NY waters, as the lined or northern seahorse, Hippocampus erectus, is found from Nova Scotia to Argentina. It uses a variety of structured habitats, however, on Long Island, they typically utilize eelgrass as their habitat. They use their tails to hold onto shoots of grass and sit still to wait to suck up little unsuspecting critters like small amphipods and shrimp to eat. Like their cousins the pipefish, male seahorses also carry the eggs. Lined seahorses are listed as “vulnerable” by the World Conservation Union’s red list of endangered species. They used to be common in Long Island waters, but loss of their primary habitat, eelgrass, has caused populations to be reduced. Hopefully, with the help of the seagrass group from Cornell and their work with seahorses, these magnificent sea creatures can return to having large, healthy populations around NY.