Critically endangered red handfish found in Tasmania; unique fish 'walks' on ocean floor [VIDEO]

Red handfish
Red handfish Screengrab from YouTube/Michael Baron

A new discovery has opened up the possibilities of conservation and captive breeding of one of world's rarest fish, the red handfish. This unique fish is popular for 'walking' on the seabed with their modified fins.

Scientists and divers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) in Tasmania have discovered a group of red handfish by using third-hand GPS coordinates after a tip-off from a member of the public.

After trawling the ocean floor for a long time, diver Antonia Cooper spotted the end of a tail of a red handfish. Further investigation led to the discovery of the fish species hidden under some algae.

Several of these red handfish were spotted under the seaweed and it is believed that a group of 20-40 fish is living in this undisclosed location. Previously, the only population of red handfish was found off the Apple Isle's southeast coast and they were 20-40 in number. Now, the population has effectively been doubled.

IMAS scientist Rick Stuart-Smith has said that this is a 'huge' discovery as the shy handfish is very difficult to find. "They feel very exposed when you move their piece of seaweed and hug the bottom. You have to pretty much lift up the individual piece of seaweed that they're sitting under to find them," he adds.

The IUCN Red List has categorized the red spotted handfish as 'Critically Endangered'.

This species of fish was common in Tasmanian seas in the 1800s but is now close to extinction due to pollution, loss of habitat and low rate of breeding. Till date, researchers have found it too risky to organize a captive breeding programme for this fish as removing eggs or specimen from their natural habitat might prove fatal.

However, the recent discovery can result in a breeding programme, leading to new hope for the species' survival. Stuart-Smith says that they will reconsider the breeding plan. The handfish, which is also endangered, is being bred in captivity as well.

Check out the video of this unique fish walking: