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Sea Horses


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In Nature's Wonderland

Sea Horses
Published and copyright © 1941-1989 by Kehot Publication Society
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We are going to get acquainted with a very extraordinary creature - a Sea Horse. This is not a four-legged horse that lives in the sea, but a strange little fish that looks remarkably like a horse, as you can see in the picture. Actually it is only its head that looks like a horse's. But isn't the head the most important part of any animal? What's more, it holds its head upright all the time, and this gives it the appearance of a serious, dignified and intelligent horse. If you play chess, you can see that it looks just like the knight on the chessboard.

The little seahorse is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating of fishes; perhaps one of the most extraordinary creatures in the whole animal kingdom. Come along with us, and you will see that we are not exaggerating.

Seahorses are found in tropical and temperate seas in many parts of the world. They usually live in shallow waters. A variety of large seahorses inhabit the coastal waters of the west coast of the Americas, from southern California to northern Peru. It reaches a length of one foot. In the western Atlantic, especially along the coasts of Florida, the Gulf, and Caribbean, a smaller variety of seahorses live, averaging about 4 inches but often reaching a length of eight. By comparison, the Dwarf Seahorse of Florida measures only one inch, and never exceeds two inches.

Large or small, all seahorses have the same shape of head and body and the same characteristics. The whole body of the seahorse is encased in jointed armor; it has no fish scales. The mouth is small, and it is located at the top of a longish snout. More than half of the total length of the seahorse is made up of the prehensile (grasping) tail, like a monkey's. The seahorse moves very slowly in the water, since its fins are small. Being also transparent, the fins' vibration is almost unnoticeable, and the seahorse seems to glide along in the water.

Seahorses come in a variety of colors. Some may be dull brown, others golden yellow; some bright green, others bright orange. As a matter of fact, the horse's color depends on its surroundings. If it lives amid bright green grass, its color will be bright green; if among yellow, brown, or gray grass, or among coral or sponge, its color will be similar. In this respect, the seahorse has the characteristic of a chameleon: it can change its color to match its surroundings. This camouflage, and the armored body, are the only means of the seahorse's protection. The seahorse resembles the chameleon in yet another way: it can move its eyes independently of each other, one eye looking forward, while the other swivels around to look backward.

The most remarkable thing about the seahorse is the fact that the father seahorse gives birth to the offspring! Incredible? But it is true. The father seahorse has a pouch in his belly, like a kangaroo! There, the mother seahorse deposits the eggs, which she produces. The small opening of the pouch then seals itself. After 10 to 45 days, depending on the species, the babies are born inside the father's pouch, whereupon the babies begin to emerge, one or more at a time. While "giving birth," the father seahorse twists and turns, as if in "labor pains," to get the brood out. As many as 150 to 200 babies may be born to the Western Atlantic Seahorse over a period of several days, each baby being no more than a quarter of an inch long. The Dwarf Seahorse has a much smaller brood, numbering from ten to twenty, which may take them from a quarter of an hour to several hours to leave the pouch.

Coming out of the pouch, head first or tail first, the newborn quickly assume an upright position and begin to move under their own power. They never return to the pouch, as kangaroo babies do; they are strictly on their own. Soon their grasping tails twist around a blade of sea grass. There they sit waiting for their meal to drift by. The seahorse feeds on tiny copepods, shrimp larvae, or other plankton. As some minute sea creature drifts by, the seahorse snaps open its tiny mouth, and with lightning speed sucks in a mouthful of water, gulping down its meal with it. The seahorse has no teeth; the food is swallowed whole.

Such is this extraordinary creature, the little seahorse-with a head like that of a horse, a grasping tail like that of a monkey, an external skeleton like that of an insect, bulging eyes that swivel independently like a chameleon's, changing color like the same, and a pouch for carrying its offspring like a kangaroo! It is hard to find another animal with such an extraordinary assortment of characteristics! To top it all, it's the father seahorse, not the mother, that gives birth to the babies!

Only the Creator Himself could have created such a strange creature.

No wonder people are fascinated by the seahorse. In towns and villages of seahorse territory there are many curio and souvenir shops which sell little live seahorses in jars filled with ocean water. You can also buy them mounted on driftwood as lasting souvenirs. For this purpose, the seahorse is first kept in a preservative solution, and then mounted. You can also buy it in the form of a piece of jewelry, bookends, ashtrays, and the like. No other fish is so frequently used as a motif for decorative purposes. The seahorse has become the very symbol of ocean life.

There are other fishes and sea creatures, which bear the names of land animals. Such are the sea cow, sea bear, sea elephant, sea lion, sea porcupine, to mention just a few. It is interesting to Rote that our Sages of the Talmud (Chullin 127a) declared that all that is found on land is found also in the sea, except for a "chuldah" (a polecat, lynx, or some such animal) .In other words, life on land is very much like life in the sea, except that life on land is "in the open," while life in the sea is hidden under the cover of water. There is also this difference: Life under water is more closely connected with the water in which the creatures live, and no fish can survive if taken out of water. The creatures that live on land, however, do not seem to be so closely connected with the soil, although all land creatures directly or indirectly live off the soil.

Taking land and sea in the symbolic sense of the "open" and the "hidden," it has been said that the human being is both a creature of "land" and of "sea." This means that he has a body, which can be seen and a soul which is hidden; therefore he has bodily needs (eating, drinking, resting, etc.) and spiritual needs which include all other activities not connected with needs or pleasures of the body, such as the fulfillment of religious duties.

However, this does not mean (at any rate insofar as a Jew is concerned) that one is like an amphibious animal that can live two separate lives, a life on land and a life in water, as it pleases. Such amphibious creatures have been so created that they can live a double life; they can leave the water and enjoy themselves on land, and then return to the water and frolic there. So, there may be people who think that they can live a religious and moral life on a certain day in the week, or on certain occasions during the year, but the rest of the time - during their daily activities - they should be "free" from any restrictions of religious and moral duties.

The Jew is not such a creature. Ever since we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai we accepted upon ourselves to be a "holy nation" and to live a holy life at all times and places, in accordance with the commandments of G-d. We are expected to serve G-d, not only in the synagogue or at home, during prayer or the performance of any special Mitzvah, but in all our ways, and at all times. Whatever we do, whether it be eating and drinking, or going about our business, there is a way to do it, a Jewish way, in accordance with the Shulchan Aruch. In this way we bring holiness also into our "earthly" life. Our dependence on the Torah and Mitzvoth is the same as that of a fish's dependence upon water; the Torah and Mitzvoth, the Jewish way of life, is to us what water is to the fishes. Even as "earthly" creatures, we must be immersed in the "life-giving waters" of the Torah.

This simple fact was beautifully expressed by Rabbi Akiba, who lived at a time when the study of the Torah was prohibited by the Roman conquerors of our Holy Land, on the penalty of death. He continued to study the Torah and spread its knowledge and observance. Asked if he was not afraid to do so, he told the following parable:

A fox saw little fishes swimming near the shore hither and thither. Said the perhaps the most popular .of all Jewish names, because it is the name of the Father of our Jewish people. Originally the name was Abram, but later G-d changed it to Abraham, meaning "father of a multitude of nations," and made an everlasting covenant with him and his children, the Jewish people (Gen. ch. 17).

The story of Avrohom Ovinu (Our Father Abraham) is well known. [1] We will mention here only some of the great Jews who bore the name of Avrohom; and who appeared in the "Gallery of Our Great" in our Talks and Tales: Abraham ben David (RaBaD), [2] Abraham ben Ezra, [3] Abraham ben Moses Maimon, [4] Abraham Zacuto. [5]


  1. (Back to text) See also Talks & Tales, Nos. 259, 283, and other Cheshvan issues.

  2. (Back to text) See Talks & Tales, Nos. 36 and 165.

  3. (Back to text) See Talks & Tales, No. 35.

  4. (Back to text) See Talks & Tales, No. 27.

  5. (Back to text) See Talks & Tales, Nos. 83 and 84.

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