Just a fun little fact dump and notes on my own sightings because then I retain all the info!
If you’ve ever seen a pipefish, chances are you initially thought it was a stray frond of seaweed, wafting in the swash.
Pipefish look uncannily like the eelgrass they are often found in. Look close and you’ll see how much they resemble seahorses. That’s because they are part of the same family: Syngnathidae.
The pipefish common to our temperate Pacific Northwest waters is the Bay Pipefish. I’ve seen it a couple of times. First in the shallow eelgrass in the Hood Canal, and then more recently in the Florence North Jetty. This later sighting surprised me as I have not seen much (if any) eelgrass in the North Jetty. The pipefish I saw was drifting along the seabed at about 40ft depth. If a student hadn’t pointed it out, the rest of us would have swum right by.
Pipefish have long, thin bodies that mimic the eelgrass they are typically found in in intertidal zones. They have small, toothless mouths that open upwards. They use their tiny dorsal, pectoral and tail fins to swim (usually in a vertical position) and their heads to steer. An adult pipefish won’t be any larger than 40cm with many in the 30-35cm range.
For pipefish, parenting roles are reversed. The female does the courting. If this courting is successful and the eggs are fertilized, she deposits them in the male’s brood pouch. He will then carry them until they are born. While he is carrying the embryos, he will feed them via an attachment to his abdominal wall and bloodstream, in much the same way, a woman will feed a human baby. Then, depending on water temperature, the eggs will hatch in about two weeks.
Pipefish are named after the English Tavern Pipes men smoked in the 1700s.