The newest attractions at the Melbourne Aquarium are so adept at hiding themselves, even the most eagle-eyed visitor might have trouble spotting them.
About 20 baby weedy sea dragons, also known as dragon fry, have made their public debut after a successful but complicated breeding program.
Forty-five dragon fry were born at the aquarium in December last year – the best result the breeding program has had since it began 10 years ago.
Melbourne Aquarium is one of just three centres worldwide to successfully breed weedy sea dragons in captivity, which is fitting given the alien-like creature is Victoria’s marine emblem.
“We’ve got the most successful breeding program worldwide and we’re trying to elaborate that as much as we can,” lead aquarist Dylan White said.
“We’ve got the most successful breeding program worldwide and we’re trying to elaborate that as much as we can.”
Lead aquarist Dylan White
Breeding the dragons was no easy task and involved carers manipulating water temperature and light to mimic the animal’s natural environment.
It was then up to some unique teamwork from the dragons themselves.
“The eggs go from the female to the male and he attaches them to the base of his tail and then they incubate from there,” Mr White said.
Half the fry born last December will remain in Melbourne, while the rest will be sent to aquariums in Asia and the United Kingdom.
Lost habitat make dragons vulnerable to predators
According to Mr White, many people may not realise their actions on the water have an impact on these delicate creatures.
“For an animal like the dragon, they actually camouflage, that’s how they protect themselves, and you take that habitat away and they’re very, very open to predation,” he said.
“We’ve got a pristine environment out there, pack away your litter, don’t anchor your boat in the wrong spot and leave the habitat how it is.”
The weedy sea dragon is listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, putting it in the same category as the white rhino and the eastern bettong.
Its natural habitat is the shallow water and seaweed beds off the coast of southern Australia, where its unique, weed-like appearance goes almost unnoticed by predators.
It can go unnoticed at the aquarium too, where visitors often glide past a tank of seaweed, not realising that hiding among the weeds is one of the ocean’s most fascinating creatures.