Quest for the curly-tailed horses














A little while ago, I made a rather wonderful discovery – I uncovered a forgotten pioneer of underwater filmmaking (and I found some seahorses).

It was the title of Noel Monkman’s autobiography that caught my eye: Quest of the curly-tailed horses.

And to my surprise, it wasn’t just the seahorses in this book that I adored but it was also a delight to discover the man who wrote it. Noel Monkman was born in New Zealand at the turn of the 20th century and spent a troubled childhood in sullen boarding houses, being shifted from place to place by his father who tried to keep him away from his mother – she’d made the unforgiveable decision to continue with a music career instead of devoting herself solely to family life. Times were very different back then.

Following a series of jobs and adventures, work as a portrait photographer, building laborer and concert cellist, Monkman began exploring Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the 1930s accompanied by his wife, Kitty. Together they made the first ever underwater films of the world’s biggest reef.

In delightful early chapters, Monkman describes his time spent on the New Zealand coast where he made friends with a local maori boy and together they discovered amazing wildlife at the beach. They constructed a rock pool on the shore and filled it with their favourite sea creatures, including the curly-tailed horses.

Monkman’s curly-tailed horses must have been Big-Belly Seahorses, Hippocampus abdominalisthe only species native to New Zealand. And at up to around 30cm or a foot from head to tail, these are the biggest seahorses in the world.

In one of my favourite bits of the book, Monkman describes his frustrations in finding something for the seahorses to eat. He offered them fish, bits of mussel, and all his own favourite foods: cake, biscuits, strawberry jam, plum pudding, apples, pears and plums. He even thought – being horses – he should try them on oats or bran. But no. The seahorses were having none of it

Eventually, though, he cracks the puzzle of what seahorses eat, writing:

“As I lay beside the pool watching them, I noticed that occasionally one or other of them would turn slowly sideways as if watching something; then there would be a sudden flick of the head as if it had given a dainty little sneeze.”

Sneezing seahorses. I love it!

Read a longer version of this post at wildoceanblue

Photo by tassiesim

Leave a Reply