Naturalist Book Nook

Poseidon’s Steed: The Story of Seahorses, From Myth to Reality
by Helen Scales, PhD

poseidons.steedSeahorses, the modern day ‘poster child’ of healthy oceans, are fascinating creatures that have captured the human imagination for millennia.  Although they are not a keystone species, the author answers the question of why they matter because they “…..offer insights into life beneath the waves…. and … because they inspire us to care about the natural world.”  She goes on to quote Sir David Attenborough about the need of protecting any species because “’the overwhelming reason is man’s imaginative health.’”  How true…the need to be inspired!

broochThe author begins with the tale of a 1966 discovery of many gold, silver and bronze items in Usak, Turkey, that had been lying hidden in a tomb for two-and-a-half thousand years including a tiny, inch-long gold brooch sculpted in the shape of a winged seahorse believed to belong to King Croesus of ancient Lydia.  Little did the seahorse brooch know that it would be part of what would become to be known as the Lydian Hoard, 336 pieces of ancient treasure, to be smuggled across the Atlantic and sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MOMA) for one and half million dollars.  The museum was very secretive about these jewels and kept them hidden in a basement, never displaying the artifacts.  Several Turkish journalists interested in archaeology became aware of the Lydian Hoard and pursued this missing Turkish treasure.  As a result, there ended up being a multi-million dollar lawsuit against MOMA, and after admitting to the illegal purchase, all of the artifacts were returned to Turkey.  That was not the end of the story as it was brought to light that after eight years on display back in Turkey, the winged seahorse, and other artifacts, were 21st century fakes!  This was a result of an inside job of collusion and theft coordinated by the director of the Turkish state museum and staff.  Rumors say that the buyer who coordinated the theft with the museum employees and is now in possession of the brooch is a Japanese tycoon.

220px-Black_Sea_fauna_SeahorseThis is only one of many interesting stories relating the ancient awareness of seahorses to modern day events.  Scales adeptly interweaves seahorse facts, history and wonder throughout the book, e.g., their inclusion on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) protected species list, where they live, how they live, their camouflaging abilities, how they can move their eyes independently, the only fish with a neck, the male being the birth giver, etc.   When the male gives birth, there can be from three hundred and to upward of 2,000 babies.  Scales describes it as “… clouds of transparent specks like a swarm of apostrophes … ”  I thought that was a delightful description.

This small book, 197 pages, is a pleasurable read.  Grab your trident and dive along with Poseidon below the ocean waves and be mesmerized by the enigmatic seahorse!

– Penny Warren, January 2015