Seahorse pygmy denise. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)
Seahorse pygmy denise. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)

Shy as a pygmy seahorse

  Indonesia: Triton Bay - March 2016

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 

These tiny sea horses are a-do-ra-bles!!! But they are very shy, and they hate to be photographed...

Mini, mini, mini ...

Triton Bay, Indonesia, where I stayed in March 2016The bay of the pygmy seahorses should be renamed "the bay of the pygmy seahorses". I think I have never seen such a concentration of mini-seahorses in all my diving life.

These tiny bargibanti pygmy seahorses are no bigger than the nail of my little finger ... (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)
These tiny Bargibanti pygmy seahorses are no bigger than my pinky nail... (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)

Photographing them is really a challenge, because of their tiny size. Just think: the seahorses in the picture above are about as big as the nail of my little finger!

So, to observe them, some divers take a magnifying glass. And underwater photographers like me take pictures of them with a lens macro, which captures tiny subjects down to the smallest detail.

Spotting them during a dive is not easy. They are most often found in huge fan-shaped coral "bushes", the gorgonians. To find them, it's a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack...

Are there pygmy seahorses in this gorgon? (Triton Bay, March 2016.)
Are there pygmy seahorses in this gorgon? (Triton Bay, March 2016.)

So every time I choose to put the macro lens on my Canon Eos 7D, my two Indonesian guides Andi and Edi, from the resort Triton Bay Divers, carefully inspect the gorgonians and corals around.

Does this gorgon harbor a family of pygmy seahorses? (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)It's a bit of a competition between them, to the one who will be the first to find the adorable pygmy seahorses!

But it is a game of patience, a delicate quest, not always successful. I am always very impressed when one or the other of my precious guides manages to find these mini sea horses, kings of camouflage, in the middle of the branches of a huge gorgonian...

In Triton Bay, I am spoiled. I discovered, as the days went by, that the three most famous and coveted species of seahorses are found here in abundance. bargibanti, denise and pontohi (I present them below).

So there is both variety and profusion in the same area. It is rare. Really, this bay of Indonesia, located in West Papua, south of Raja AmpatThis is a confirmation of its status as a "hot spot" for biodiversity. I was talking about it in this first post:

→ Diving under the coconut palms of Triton Bay


Here is the pygmy bargibanti seahorse (Hippocampus bargibanti, also named seahorse pygmy gorgonians). It most often has small bumps of pink-purple or yellow-orange color.

A purple bargibanti hippocampus poses on its gorgonian branch. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)
A purple bargibanti hippocampus poses on its gorgonian branch. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)

The bumps of the bargibanti serve as camouflage and allow it to blend in with the branches of the gorgonians of the same color, which are also bumpy when their polyps are closed. In its pink-mauve version, it is the most common pygmy seahorse, the one I have most often photographed during my dives in the Indo-Pacific area. I also discovered in Triton Bay a variant with red humps and white body: this type of seahorse, particularly rare, is nicknamed "Santa Claus" by my guides, who are overexcited if they find one!


The pygmy seahorse denise (Hippocampus deniseThe yellow pygmy seahorse (also called Denise's pygmy seahorse) is smaller in appearance. It also has small protuberances, less numerous, and its color also varies according to its environment, from yellow-brown to pale pink.

Seahorse pygmy denise. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)
Hello, denise seahorse! (Triton Bay, March 2016.)

It is similarly very gifted to pass unnoticed or almost in the branches of gorgonians that it inhabits. Less common than the bargibanti, it is very coveted by underwater photographers.


Finally, there is the elusive and delicate pontohi (Hippocampus pontohialso called Pontoh's pygmy seahorse). A rarity as difficult to spot as to photograph.

Seahorse pygmy pontohi. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)
Very shy, the pontohi lives stashed in coral "twigs." (Triton Bay, March 2016.)

Its white body decorated with red and yellow patterns allows it to play hide-and-seek in the middle of the "twigs" of coral and seaweed leaves where it likes to shelter, on walls or underwater drop-offs... And I even saw once its cousin the servensiless flamboyant, with a brownish color.

Orgy of seahorses

These graceful little seahorses don't like photos - not at all. They are very shy and hate being in the spotlight. With their tails curled up on their branches, as soon as they realize that someone is interested in them a little too closely, they prefer to swivel slowly... and stubbornly turn their backs to the camera! It is sometimes exasperating.

So it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to manage to photograph one from the front or from the side. The most annoying is when it decides to change branch. It then takes a long time to find it again! The help of a guide with lynx eyes is essential...

Fortunately, I spent ten days in Triton Bay, diving three times a day. This was enough time to take pictures of pygmy seahorses... Their delicate beauty never ceases to amaze me.

Pygmy Seahorse bargibanti. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)

Seahorse pygmy denise. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)

An adorable Pygmy Seahorse Bargibanti in its purple gorgon with wide open polyps. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)
An adorable Pygmy Seahorse Bargibanti in its purple gorgon with wide open polyps. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016)

Seahorse pygmy denise. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)

Seahorse pontohi pygmy. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)

Pygmy Seahorse bargibanti. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)


Seahorse pontohi pygmy. (Triton Bay, West Papua, Indonesia, March 2016.)



  Indonesia: Triton Bay - March 2016

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    1. @Brice: THANK YOU!!! That's exactly it, we're entering another world, that of the very small, of "macro". The slightest relief in a coral branch becomes an element of the "landscape" in which these tiny critters evolve. It's fascinating... 🙂

  1. Corinne, frankly sublime, your pygmies! Thank you !
    I didn't know the Pontohi, a discovery. Magnificent, especially the two together. I also have a sublime pair of yellow seahorses holding each other's tails, discovered at Richelieu Rock in Thailand. It's my February photo, in my calendars, to symbolize Valentine's Day! Your two entwined Pontohi remind me of them! 8)

    1. @Marc: thank you for your enthusiastic comment! I'm delighted to have introduced you to the Pontohi. Even more discreet and shy than the others, this one... I was incredibly lucky to capture both of them together in this posture, too bad one of them hides his snout behind the coral... 😉

  2. So Pontohi would be the shyest?! 😉
    Beautiful photos brought back from the depths of time and seas.

    1. @Ysbilia: yes, tiny, rare and very shy... It hides behind the coral as soon as it sees the lens. Exasperating to photograph! Much harder to immortalize than a whale shark or a manta ray... 🙄

  3. Good evening Corrine
    Magnificent photos (as usual!) I didn't know these seahorses! So cute.
    Thank you for sharing with us all these beautiful moments.
    Louise 😉

  4. Still very beautiful pictures.
    Very successful photos of pygmy seahorses. Bravo for the result and for v
    your patience.
    We want more ……

  5. Another moment of escape and dream thanks to your photos Corinne. One of these days I hope to follow in your footsteps.
    THANK YOU and still lots of wonderful dives to you.

    1. @Anne: very touched by your message, thank you! I myself extend the escape by rediscovering my photos on my return, when I prepare blog posts... Happy to succeed in sharing my underwater happiness 🙂

  6. The world of liliputians is really cool! At sea and on land. We often forget that there are wonders that are barely visible. Thank you Corinne for giving us the opportunity to (re)discover them through your sublime photos! 🙄

  7. Beautiful photos, as usual. I'm particularly fond of the Bargibantis against the red coral background.
    Photography-wise, it looks pretty complicated. Did you get a lot of rejects? Especially when it comes to focusing.

    1. @Jean: It's not so much focusing that's a challenge (with practice and experience, you eventually master this aspect, with the right macro lens) as "capturing" the seahorse at the right moment, when it's exactly in the right position. After all, they never stop moving. There's really no recipe for success: you need to be patient, take the time to observe, anticipate your lighting settings too...

      I haven't assessed the proportion of my "scrap" on pygmy seahorses. Of course, there's always some, but it doesn't seem to me to be any greater than for other types of subject.

      When I don't get anywhere after a few shots, I change angle or even location, until I find a more favorable position to shoot again. Sometimes, there's no point in going on and on about the same seahorse, which has already taken quite a few flashes in the eyes, poor thing...

  8. Wow what photos!
    When you know how tiny these seahorses are, you really realize that these photos are real feats! Personally, I like pygmy seahorses, but they're so small that I sometimes lose my patience looking for them 😆 As you say, without an eagle-eyed guide, it's hard to find these little beasts. At least with your photos we can see them (very very) close up 🙂 Many thanks!

    1. @Anne Sophie : yes, macro photography makes you pay attention to the small, even the tiny... The presence of a guide is really precious, not to say indispensable 🙄

    1. @Tamelie: This is not an easy question to answer. There is so little information on pygmy seahorses (they are rare and difficult to observe) that scientists don't know their population. So we don't know whether the population is declining or not...

      If I am to believe the information provided by the Wikipedia files for the species I mentioned above, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), which draws up the red list of threatened species, only states that there is not enough data.

      The other reference in this field, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), places pygmy seahorses in its Appendix II, meaning that they are not necessarily threatened with extinction, but that their trade must be regulated to avoid exploitation incompatible with their survival.

      Pygmy seahorses are so small and hard to find that I don't believe they are fished or traded, unlike the larger species of seahorses that can be found in many Asian stores, where they are sold dried...

      In any case, these tiny gorgonian inhabitants are dependent on their habitat, and therefore on the health of coral ecosystems. We can therefore assume that pygmy seahorses, like them, are threatened by ocean warming.