Seahorses, known not only for their funky shape but also for being monogamous and for the odd trait that it's the males who give birth, might be in more trouble than thought. It's long been known that the small fish are just one of many to get caught up in fishermen's nets, but new research in the journal Fisheries suggests that millions more than previously realized are dying every year because of the problem. Haikai magazine calls it an "accidental slaughter" of some 37 million seahorses annually, based on data gathered from surveys and field tests in 22 countries. That figure is about six times higher than previous estimates, which might help explain why many of the 41 species of seahorses around the world are now deemed vulnerable or near threatened, per National Geographic.
For the most part, seahorses are not intentionally caught. Many fishermen talk about finding one a day in their nets, which they sell for roughly the cost of a pack of cigarettes because traditional Chinese medicine values the fish. But the study finds that even this low level of bycatch adds up to huge numbers, while other, less memorable small fish are probably also suffering the same fate. Compelling fishermen to stop using trawl nets isn't easy, as the lead researcher says: "These people are often very poor, and they need to feed their kids. But we're trying to find that balance to make the resources work for them." Thailand, the biggest exporter of seahorses, temporarily banned the trade last fall. (Here's why seahorses have square tails.)