Lesson from a Seahorse

Detail Drives Preservation

The Backstory

Magnificent, underestimated creatures. They can teach us many things, if we stop, observe, and try to understand.

While visiting the island of Roatan, Honduras, my wife and I met an old couple running a small shop along the side of the road just down the street from the main cruise and tourist port. We were looking for local goods as souvenirs… trying to stay away from the mass produced stuff that’s found at every cruise stop.

We were lured into the shop small that was about 8' x 6' — it was wrapped in canvas and help up by old boards and tree limbs. There were the traditional t-shirts and Honduras soccer jerseys, but this couple took the time to retrieve natural, local items for their shop. The people of Roatan are known to be fisherman or living off of the ocean, but it was surprising for us to see just how plentiful and not-a-big-deal their finds were… to us, they were awesome.

The Object

Laid out on a beat up towel on some crates (maybe fishing traps), and a few more in buckets, were dried seahorses.

My first reaction was, “Are those real?” Of course, the answer was, “Yes.” Little did I know that seahorses dry out and harden like this… like mummified skeletons. There were buckets of them, and it was fascinating to look through the find.

We learned that the couple know several fisherman that catch the seahorses… not on purpose… by accident. Apparently, the seahorses get caught in the nets and pulled in with the rest of the fish. The fisherman pull them off the nets and save them for shop owners. It turns out the local fisherman don’t like capturing the creatures — it’s an unfortunate side effect.

The shop owners tried real hard to sell us anything… when we weren’t biting on the t-shirts, jerseys, or shells, the guy took a seahorse and BANGED it against table and then a rock. I was shocked! I was thinking, “What are you doing?!” The guy was gonna break the seahorse, which seemed horrific to do that to something that was already dead.

As you might guess, the dried seahorse didn’t shatter or break at all. Then the Q&A started with the guy. I was sucked in at this point; talk about a great sales tactic!

The Detail

When dried out, seahorses exoskeletons become almost rock-like and are extremely durable… petrified. As seen in the photographs I took for this article, the rich orange and brown colors really give it a once-alive look, the felt like old bones and are somewhat soft around the cheeks. In looking at them closely, they are almost smiling at you.

Amazing detail preserved

I was surprised to see that this level of detail was preserved so well. The eyes, mouth, and lines around the chest and back are so well-designed and flowing that it’s as if they are alive in the afterlife. Each seahorse dried in a slightly different shape, which just adds to the uniqueness of the “product.”

I’m not sure if the shop owners get the seahorses for free or pay for them, but we bought several for relatively cheap in U.S. dollars. While we got something that we thought was neat, we also were able to help the local people of Roatan, Honduras with our small purchase.

The Lesson

While having a dried seahorse in a typical household isn’t necessarily an “ordinary object” here in the U.S., to the people of Roatan, they aren’t a big deal… pretty ordinary to those folks. Sometimes the ordinary things in our own lives are the extraordinary things in others’ lives.

The key take-aways:

  • Small details define professionalism and drive preservation
  • Nothing is insignificant
  • Don’t take what you have for granted
  • You can sell anything with the right knowledge and tactic

Who knew that a level of detail can be preserved so magnificently and beautifully from nature? — and a seahorse of all things.

Written by Shaun Holloway.