Rare walking fish discovered off the Tasmanian coast

Rare walking fish
IMAS Technical Officer Antonia Cooper spotted the first red hand fish just as the team was about to give up.(Antonia Cooper) Antonia Cooper/Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies

A team of divers has discovered a rare fish population off the Tasmanian coast, and interestingly, this species has finger-like fins which help them to walk across the surface of the ocean. According to experts, red handfish is one of the rarest fish species in the world, and as of now, only 20 to 40 individuals of these fishes have been discovered in the world.

The diving team was led by Antonia Cooper from IMAS University of Tasmania. According to the diving team leader, it was at the end of their diving session that they spotted a red handfish.

"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," said Cooper.

Experts reveal that red handfishes are very bad swimmers, and they usually walk with their hand-like fins. These fishes grow from 2-5 inches in size. Due to its minimal swimming ability, they wander only in a limited area in the sea.

"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," added Cooper.

Previously, several studies conducted on this species have indicated that red handfishes are now facing threats of extinction. Considering the very less number of red handfishes, scientists believe that this newfound population is a promising discovery.

IMAS (Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies) scientist Dr Rick Stuart-Smith said that the discovery of this second population is a huge relief considering the declining number of red handfishes all across the globe.

"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," said Rick.

Rick also added that Tasmania is a global hotspot for the family of red handfishes.

Otherwiswe, Red Handfish (Thymichthys politus) are found only off south east Tasmania and until last week only one remaining population of an estimated 20-40 individuals, few kilometres away from the previously known population in Frederick Henry Bay.

Each site measures only 50 metres by 20 metres or double the sixe of a tennis court. The range of the handfish is limited by the fact it walks on the seafloor instead of swimming. Following a tip off from the public about spotting an individual handfish, the university has sent a team of seven divers who had spent two days searching the area.