Explore the Sonora coast of the Sea of Cortez at SeaSanCarlos and the Baja Peninsula at SeaBaja

Guide to Reef Fishes of the Sea of CortezGuide to Sea of Cortez Marine InvertebratesGuide to Sea of Cortez Plants and AlgaeSea of Cortez Forums and Online Community

Sea of Cortez 810

Family Syngnathidae
Pipefishes and Seahorses
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned)
Order: Gasterosteiformes

Key Features:
Seahorses are difficult to confuse with any other fishes.  They have forsaken speed and agility in favor of an armored body and excellent camouflage.  Even the traditional form of propulsion, the caudal fin has been modified into a prehensile tail.  This necessitates an upright swimming position so that the dorsal and pectoral fns can provide propulsion.  Pipefishes on the other hand have retained their caudal fin and maintain a horizontal position in the water.  Both groups are covered in armored rings and employ a powerful tube snout for sucking up crustaceans and other small prey.  In all syngnathids, males carry eggs in special brood pouches.

Notable Species in the Sea of Cortez

Hippocampus ingens
Pacific Seahorse
Doryrhamphus excisus
Fantail Pipefish
Cosmocampus arctus
Snubnose Pipefish

hippocampus ingens pacific seahorse, sea of cortez, San Carlos, Sonora Mexico

Hippocampus ingens
Pacific Seahorse

La Ventana (Window Rock)
San Carlos, Sonora, Mexico

Baja News and Views for Scuba Divers


San Carlos Scuba Diving

Family Syngnathidae
Pipefishes and Seahorses (Peces pipa y caballitos de mar)

The Pacific seahorse, Hippocampus ingens, is the only seahorse in the Sea of Cortez, and is also the only seahorse found in the entire tropical eastern Pacific.  While common throughout the Sea of Cortez, the Pacific seahorse is only rarely observed by divers due to its remarkable ability to camouflage itself.  It is most abundant at depths above seventy feet, where a close observer may find these unusual fishes living singly or in pairs amongst sargassum and Padina sp. macroalgaes.  Ranging from southern California to Peru, the Pacific seahorse may also be observed clinging to sea whips and gorgonians at offshore patch reefs. 

Also contained within the family Syngnathidae are the pipefishes.  Mexico’s Sea of Cortez contains five species, one of which, Syngnathus carinatus, is endemic only to the Sea of Cortez.  Secretive and shy, these fishes resemble an elongated seahorse.  Preferring to reside in monogamous pairs in rocky crevices and overhangs, these creatures are remarkably common throughout the Gulf, but almost universally overlooked by cruising scuba divers.  Only the most curious scuba divers armed with a flashlight are ever likely to encounter these animals. 

The fantail pipefish is one of the most common species in the Sea of Cortez.  Its range also extends from the Red Sea and east Africa throughout the eastern Pacific.  Reaching a maximum size of only three inches, these tiny fishes exist almost exclusively in pairs, often hovering upside down in rocky ledges.  They are territorial and can be found in the same crevice day after day.  The feature from which it derives its name, a large rounded caudal fin, most easily identifies it. 

For the intrepid observer able to find these animals, observation provides the opportunity to see a truly unique group of organisms.  Defenseless except for an armored body, these fishes are characteristically poor swimmers with few means of escape.  Relying instead on camouflage, Syngnathids blend perfectly with their environment.  Syngnathids prefer not to move to catch prey, instead allowing the prey to come to them.  Utilizing a rapid sucking action, Syngnathids readily consume large numbers of planktonic crustaceans and larval fishes that pass through the nutrient rich waters of the Sea of Cortez. 

Most syngnathid species are monogamous and will form strong pair bonds that will last a lifetime.  These pair bonds are reaffirmed every morning through ritualized dances lasting up to thirty minutes.  During mating season Syngnathids engage in a unique reproductive strategy in which the female deposits the fertilized eggs into a specialized brood pouch at the belly of the male.  Contrary to popular believe, the male does not undergo a true pregnancy, but does in fact give birth to a clutch of well-developed larvae from a brood pouch.


Updated August 28, 2009

Contact Us
Privacy Policy

©2006-2009 See the Seas. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited.