Small Fins, Big Eyes, and Open Hearts

Captive seahorses know we’re watching.

15A05 Kirin

And they like to watch us back.

14H Ghillie

Many people seem surprised to learn that “seahorse watching” is a two-way street. My seahorses spend at least as much time observing me as I do staring in through the glass at them.

15C31 Kirin


Possibly more, because I’m often working or writing, and every time I look up, at least one of them is watching me with interest. Other fish watch because they want food–and there’s no doubt the seahorses do that too, from time to time. (Who am I kidding…ALL the time, if it’s close to a feeding hour–and they do know.) 

Much of the time, however, the seahorses don’t seem to be begging–they’re just observing, as if curious about the creatures on the opposite side of the strange, transparent wall.

15C31 What Seahorse

Two years ago, at Christmas, I decorated a little tree and put it in my office. Every evening, my male seahorse, Cygnus, clung to the front of the tank to watch the lights.

15C31 Cyg watching tree


There wasn’t anything else in that direction, and the lights didn’t flash–he simply found the steady glow intriguing. When I removed the tree, he never hung to that particular spot again–until last year, when once again I put up a tree, and once again he watched it.

Unlike many fish, seahorses won’t usually panic at rapid movements. They seem aware that the glass protects them as well as keeping them in.

15C31 Baby Vega

They quickly learn to recognize the camera (in my case, an iPhone) and usually peek out to investigate when it draws near.

I watch them, they watch me–and I see intelligence in their eyes. They may not be as smart as a “real” horse, or a dog, or even a turkey, but they have the capacity to reason, and to feel.

15C30 Ghillie and Emo

They understand friendship.

15C30 Ghillie and Ceti last day

They understand love.

15C31 Magellan

And I like to think they find us just as fascinating as we find them.