Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video

Walking on my fish fingers: Footage emerges of newly discovered population of red handfish that wanders across the seabed on its limbs

Incredible images and footage has revealed a new population of what is believed to be the world’s rarest fish.

Stunning clips show the Red Handfish sitting on the seabed using its hands like flippers to walk along it.

Fascinating close-ups show the rarely seen red and orange fish as it navigates its way past some plants.

This second population of the rare fish was discovered by Tasmanian scientists, sparking hopes of a breeding program that could boost the species’ chance of survival.

The tiny red handfish, which ‘walks’ on modified fins across the seabed, is found only off the Apple Isle’s southeast coast.

It was thought a group of 20-40 fish at Frederick Henry Bay was the last remaining.

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
Mate, leave me alone: The tiny Red Handfish, which ‘walks’ on modified fins across the seabed, is found only off Tasmania’s southeast coast

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
Fascinating close-ups show the rarely seen red and orange fish as it navigates its way past some plants

That was until last month.

Divers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) launched a search mission using third-hand GPS co-ordinates after a tip-off from a member of the public.

They spent two days trawling the ocean floor and almost gave up.

‘Just by chance I saw the end of a tail of a red handfish hidden under some algae and that was it,’ IMAS diver Antonia Cooper said.

‘We were diving for approximately three and a half hours and at about the two hour mark we were all looking at each other thinking this is not looking promising.

‘My dive partner went to tell the other divers that we were going to start heading in and I was half-heartedly flicking algae around when, lo and behold, I found a red handfish.

‘Finding a new population that is definitely distinct from the existing one is very exciting.

‘It means there’s potentially a bigger gene pool and also that there are potentially other populations out there that we’re yet to find, so it’s very exciting indeed.’

Seven more handfish were spotted tucked under seaweed.

It is thought 20-40 fish are living at the undisclosed location, effectively doubling the species’ total population.

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
It was thought a group of 20-40 fish at Frederick Henry Bay was the last remaining

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
But last month Tasmanian divers came across a new population of the incredibly rare fish

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
They had spent two days trawling the ocean floor and almost gave up their search when they made the exciting discovery

IMAS scientist Rick Stuart-Smith described the find as ‘huge’, adding that the handfish’s lethargic nature makes them hard to find.

‘You have to pretty much lift up the individual piece of seaweed that they’re sitting under to find them,’ he said.

‘They feel very exposed when you move their piece of seaweed and hug the bottom.’

He added: ‘Finding this second population is a huge relief as it effectively doubles how many we think are left on the planet.

‘We’ve already learned a lot from finding this second population because their habitat isn’t identical to that of the first population, so we can take some heart from knowing Red Handfish are not as critically dependent on that particular set of local conditions.’

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
‘Just by chance I saw the end of a tail of a red handfish hidden under some algae and that was it,’ diver Antonia Cooper said

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
IMAS scientist Rick Stuart-Smith described the find as ‘huge’, adding that the handfish’s lethargic nature makes them hard to find

The red handfish, thought common in Tasmanian waters in the 1800s, has been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat degradation and low breeding rates.

It grows no bigger than 10cm and doesn’t venture outside an area roughly the size of two tennis courts.

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
The red handfish, thought common in Tasmanian waters in the 1800s, has been pushed to the brink of extinction by habitat degradation and low breeding rates

Incredible footage shows Red Handfish using hand walk Video
It grows no bigger than 10cm and doesn’t venture outside an area roughly the size of two tennis courts

Dr Stuart-Smith said the recent discovery could lead to a captive breeding program and has researchers optimistic more red handfish are out there.

‘It was considered too risky to remove any egg masses or individuals because it could be the last population,’ he said.

‘There’s going to be a re-discussion (about breeding).’

The similar endangered spotted handfish, also found only in Tasmania, is being bred in captivity.

 

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