CLEVELAND (WJW) — The Greater Cleveland Aquarium has welcomed some very rare new additions.
The aquarium Monday announced the birth of weedy sea dragons, a species that is incredibly difficult to breed. According to the aquarium, fewer than 20 facilities worldwide have been successful with mating sea dragons, and only about a dozen have had any fry survive.
“Weedy sea dragon births are exceedingly rare, and this would be a point of pride for any animal care facility, but it’s a particularly exciting for an aquarium of our size and age,” said Stephanie White, the aquarium’s general manager.
The aquarium this month is celebrating its 10th anniversary.
Weedy sea dragons are native to the cold coastal waters of south and west Australia.
The aquarium has three adult sea dragons. When it came to mating them, creativity played a huge role.
When sea dragons mate, they perform a courtship dance, so having enough room is essential.
Curator Ray Popik said the sea dragons were able to be homed in a very deep exhibit built into a structure that likely served as an air duct or coal chute when the aquarium building, which dates back to 1892, was an operational powerhouse.
The depth of the exhibit provided an optimal habitat for the vertical dance.
The egg transfer happened in September 2021.
When a female lays her eggs, they are transferred to the male, who fertilizes them and carries them until they hatch. Fry began popping out of their eggs in late October and the beginning of November. Staff then moved the hatchlings behind the scenes.
“There’s no parental involvement after birth and it’s incredible that any of these tiny offspring survive when they’re left to fend for themselves in the ocean,” said Mallory Haskell, the primary aquarist responsible for monitoring the babies.
Sea dragons are not strong swimmers. Their leaf-like appendages blend in with kelp, and seagrass help hide them from predators.
The aquarium plans to soon put some of the babies on view soon just down the corridor from the adult weedy sea dragons.
“If raising weedy sea dragons was easy, everyone would do it,” said Haskell. “We know there are challenges ahead, but we hope we will see a number of these sea dragons reach full size in a year or so.”