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Fish that can die of a broken heart; NEW TV SERIES CASTS LIGHT ON WORLD OF SEAHORSE.

Byline: JACK FLETCHER

THEY call him the Seahorseman because of his tireless campaign to save one of the most beautiful - and most threatened - creatures in the oceans.

Now Irish marine biologist Kealan Doyle, 36, is set to appear in a four-part RTE series, giving the viewer a glimpse into his exotic world.

Working out of his breeding facility in Dublin, Kealan has spent the last 10 years farming the endangered species - making him the world's largest supplier of captive seahorses.

He said: "We started breeding large numbers of seahorses in 2001 in a cottage on the west coast of Ireland.

"We were involved with breeding, restocking programs where sea horses were released back into the wild and supplying aquarium wholesalers who previously got all their seahorses from the wild.

"We have carried on that work and it's proving a great success."

Studying marine biology at Galway University, Kealen continued his research travelling the world to work in remote regions such as the Galapagos Islands and Ghana, before returning to Ireland to begin his conservation project.

His unique breeding program proved to be a trial-and-error process.

He added: "We try to pair seahorses up in the hope they will mate.

"The unique thing about seahorses is that they are the only animal in the world where the male gives birth. They also stay together for life and if one dies the other one never goes off with another one and generally dies of a broken heart.

"The male will serenade the female every morning by dancing around her. She then transfers the eggs to his pouch.

"When we first started the breeding program, the seahorses were all dancing around each other but they weren't getting pregnant. By chance we realised that the tanks we had weren't high enough to transfer the eggs.

"They need height to transfer the eggs - once we put them in deeper tanks we had all these pregnant males."

Male seahorses are equipped with a brood pouch on their ventral, or frontfacing, side. When mating, the female deposits her eggs into his pouch, and the male fertilises them internally. He carries the eggs in his pouch until they hatch, then releases up to 4,000 fully-formed, miniature seahorses into the water.

And it can be tough work for the fathers as Kealen explained: "The day the male gives birth, the female will re-impregnate the male so the poor lad doesn't get a break."

Population data for most of the world's 35 different breeds of the species is sparse. However, pollution and widespread harvesting - mainly for use in Asian traditional medicine - have made several breeds vulnerable to extinction.

Kealan said: "Our breakthrough into the aquariums was significant and now our produce is distributed all over the world.

"Our next aim is to break the Chinese medicine market which will be crucial for the survival of the species."

Seahorseman is on RTE One from July 12-16 each night at 8:30 pm.

The Chinese believe seahorses are a potent aphrodisiac that rivals Viagra. They are also credited with curing a range of illnesses from asthma to insomnia to some cancers. Live seahorses can fetch EUR160 each and for use in traditional Chinese medicine they're worth around EUR1,500 a kilo. The main long-snouted Irish species has a body that is mottled with white spots and is particularly prized because it is so pretty.

It is also the only seahorse with a Mohican haircut shaped head crest.

CAPTION(S):

BEAUTIFUL Many breeds of seahorse are close to extinction BREEDING Kealan's programme is the first of its type in the world SEAHORSEMAN Doyle at work in his lab
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 5, 2010
Words:606
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