Delighted keepers at Bristol Aquarium are celebrating the birth of more than 60 rare seahorses.

The babies are members of what’s believed to be the world’s largest species of seahorse – the Australian big-belly – which can reach in excess of 20cms.

The youngsters, which measure only a few centimetres in length, are the latest success story in the aquarium’s ongoing captive breeding programme for the graceful creatures.

Their parents, who were also part of a breeding programme, arrived at the Harbourside attraction last year.

“The parents‘ have been displaying to each other and taking part in courtship rituals for several weeks now so we were hopeful that the signs were positive,” explained curator Dan de Castro.

“Then earlier this week we discovered dozens of tiny babies swimming around the display. Since then they have given birth to a second batch and they are also doing extremely well,” he added.

The newborn babies have been carefully removed from the main display and are being looked after in the aquarium’s quarantine facility.

The seahorse is unique in the animal kingdom in that it is the male rather than the female which carries the babies and gives birth to them via a special brood pouch on their stomach.

In the wild virtually all of the approximate 35 species of seahorse are now under threat from a variety of sources. These include loss of habitat, pollution, the souvenir trade and traditional Far East medicine – believed to account for the deaths of more than 20 million seahorses annually.

The big-bellied seahorses at Bristol Aquarium are part of a captive-breeding programme which aims to ease the pressure on wild populations. Once the babies are large enough they will be put on display in the aquarium’s new Learning Lab.