LONG BEACH, Calif. -- Rog Hanson emerges from the coastal waters, pulls a diving regulator out of his mouth and pushes a scuba mask down around his neck.
"Did you see her?" he says. "Did you see Bathsheba?"
On this quiet Wednesday morning, a paddle boarder glides silently through the surf off Long Beach. Two stick-legged whimbrels plunge their long curved beaks into the sand, hunting for crabs.
But Hanson, 68, is enchanted by what lies hidden beneath the water. Today he took a visitor on a tour of the secret world he built from palm fronds and pine branches at the bottom of the bay: his very own seahorse city.
The visitor confirms that she did see Bathsheba, an 11-inch-long orange Pacific seahorse, and a grin spreads across Hanson's broad face.
"Isn't she beautiful?" he says. "She's our supermodel."
If you get Hanson talking about his seahorses, he'll tell you exactly how many times he's seen them (997), who is dating whom, and describe their personalities with intimate familiarity. Bathsheba is stoic, Daphne a runner. Deep Blue is chill.
He will also tell you that getting to know these strange, almost mythical beings has profoundly affected his life.
"I swear, it has made me a better human being," he says. "On land I'm very C-minus, but underwater, I'm Mensa."
Hanson is a retired schoolteacher, not a scientist, but experts say he probably has spent more time with Pacific seahorses, also known as Hippocampus ingens, than anyone on Earth.