New Population of World’s Rarest Fish discovered: Red Handfish

Tasmania found a new population of red handfish, doubling the known population of the world’s rarest fish and raising the hopes that more than that may be found.

red handfish are benthic ocean dwellers that crawl on the seafloor with their limbs. They grow to be between two and five inches long, and they eat small crustaceans and worms. Red handfish actually come in two color variations—one a bright red and the other marked by red embellishments.

Divers acting on a tip-off from a member of the public spent two days trawling the ocean floor before they found the group of 20 to 40 fish and discovered a new population of what may be the world’s rarest fish, doubling the number believed to exist. This discovery almost didn’t happen. The discovery of another population a few miles away from the first has given hope to scientists that other species may be swimming below the radar.

After a member of the public reported seeing a single handfish off the coast of southeast Tasmania, divers from IMAS and the citizen science Reef Life Survey took to the waters to search for more. They searched an area a few miles from the known population in Frederick Henry Bay.

At two hours into a three-and-a-half-hour dive, IMAS technical officer Antonia Cooper and a team of seven divers were about to give up. “We were all looking at each other, going, well, this is not looking promising,” Cooper said. The team had seen no sign of the crawling fish.

Frustrated by the fruitless trip, she signaled to her diving partner to call off the search. While waiting for the team to stop swimming, she aimlessly flicked at some nearby algae. Lo and behold, Cooper had accidentally uncovered one of the elusive fish.

This spot allowed the team to narrow down their search area. They went on to identify eight individual creatures, estimating that 20 to 40 fish inhabit this newly discovered site. Both sites are about 150 feet by 60 feet and are located a number of miles apart.


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