We wish all the dads out there a very happy father’s day in appreciation of all the hard work you put into taking care of your family. The ocean is no exception when it comes to responsible parents and we have quite a handful of doting fathers who do everything they can to make sure their offspring are safe.
However, no one deserves the world’s number one dad mug more than the proud Seahorse. When a male seahorse finds the female seahorse of his dreams, they mate for life. As they approach each other they change in colour and spiral around. Eventually the female, depending on her size, transfers 50 or sometimes even up to 1500 unfertilized eggs into the males pouch. The seahorse dad then proceeds to fertilize the eggs and over the next 14 to 30 days his pouch becomes the perfect home for them.
Over 3000 genes in the pouch work to accommodate the developing eggs and help keep them safe. His pouch is a complex organ that provides oxygen and food, removes waste produced by the embryos while also regulating temperature, blood flow and water salinity for the eggs as they hatch so the babies are as prepared as possible for life in the ocean. Seahorse dads even seem to protect embryos from infection, producing antibacterial and antifungal molecules to ward off pathogens. Surprisingly seahorse embryos can develop outside a brood pouch as well. However, as expected they do not develop well and only a few make it to adulthood.
Amazingly seahorse dads also receive a hug every morning from their wife. When there’s one week till the big day arrives seahorse dads produce hatching signals that cause the embryos to break free from the membranes they were enclosed in and swim freely inside the pouch, or he experiences the first kicks as we would call it. Giving birth is a long process with contractions lasting up to 12 hours. They are born fully formed and completely independent.
The new dad quickly gets his pre-baby body back thanks to tissue repair genes that are activated right after birth. Since dad takes on the responsibility of pregnancy it gives mum enough time to form new eggs and the dad might be pregnant a day or even a few hours after giving birth. Talk about a never empty nest.
Their closely related cousins, the sea dragon dads also carry about 70 tiny pink eggs wrapped around their tails until they hatch. Male pipefish are also part of their family and a prominent member of the pregnant dad club.