Big Daddy, the weedy sea dragon, has given birth to 25 babies at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, the first such delivery in captivity in North America--and only the third ever.
Just in time for Father's Day, the 8-inch male fish, which resembles a twiggy tendril of seaweed with eyes, delivered his 25th baby Wednesday. "On Sunday morning, he started to go into labor," said aquarist Kristy Forsgren, who cares for the aquarium's sea dragons and their cousins, the sea horses. "We actually came in and they had hatched overnight."
Between Saturday and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, the fish nicknamed Big Daddy had given birth to 14 babies, which are about half an inch long. By Monday morning, Big Daddy had hatched seven more babies, and by Tuesday morning one more, for a total of 22. By Wednesday morning, three more were born.
"They can actually give birth for up to a week," Forsgren said. Eight of the babies born since Sunday died on Wednesday. While recognizing that that survival rate might be better than in the wild, Forsgren speculated that the floating netting basket in which they are kept might be restricting their water circulation and filtration. The babies were moved to a larger holding tank out of public view that is fed by the same water in which they were born.
Before Big Daddy's deliveries, weedies had never bred in captivity except in Japan and Germany, where two aquariums have had them reproduce. In those births, there were fewer babies, and they did not survive long.
Big Daddy's big event was only the second time at a North American aquarium that the fragile eggs, which resemble tiny pink pearls, have been exchanged from female to male. It is believed that the male weedie fertilizes the tiny eggs as they drop onto his tail, but only the preceding elaborate courting dance has been witnessed by aquarists.
The first successful egg transfer to a male was about a year ago, also at the Long Beach aquarium. The male was Mr. Mom, a media darling who died before completing the six-week gestation. The babies, which were delivered prematurely, did not survive.
When curators found themselves with another pregnant male on May 5, they were jubilant.
Much remains unknown about the sensitive and fragile sea dragon, of which there are weedy and leafy varieties. Sea dragons are among only five fish groups in which the males incubate eggs. Before 1995, no American aquarium had the sea dragon, which is found in the cold waters off Australia and New Zealand.
And Big Daddy?
"The father," aquarium spokeswoman Cecile Fisher said, "remains in good shape, and we are just so proud and thrilled."