First time in decades, rare pink handfish spotted in Australia

For the first time in 22 years, a rare “walking” handfish, which is exclusively found in Australia, has been discovered off the coast of Tasmania.

The pink handfish was last observed in 1999 by a diver off the coast of Tasmania, and it has only been seen four times since then.

Officials recently categorised it as endangered, fearing for its survival.

However, Australian researchers claim to have discovered it again, this time on a deep sea video recording captured in a marine park earlier this year.

The fish appears to be in deeper and more open waters than it has previously been.

Scientists had assumed the fish resided in shallow water in sheltered coves, but it was discovered at a depth of 150 metres (390 feet) off Tasmania’s wild south coast.

“This is an amazing discovery that gives promise for the continued survival of pink handfish,” said lead researcher and marine biologist Neville Barrett, an associate professor at the University of Tasmania.

The species possesses over-sized “hands” on which they “walk” along the bottom in addition to swimming, as its name suggests.

His crew had dropped a baited camera on the Tasman Fracture Marine Park’s seafloor in February to assess the coral, lobster, and fish species down there.

The protected park, which covers an area the size of Switzerland, is famed for a large fracture in the earth’s crust that has allowed marine life to be discovered at depths of almost 4,000 metres.

In October, a research assistant sifting through the tape noticed the strange species among the mass of larger creatures drawn to the bait.

“I was viewing one of our rough movies and there was this odd-looking little fish that showed out on this reef ledge,” said Ashlee Bastiaansen of the university’s Institute of Antarctic and Marine Studies.

She told the media, “I had a closer look and you could see its little hands.”

The 15cm fish emerges from a ledge after being disturbed by a rock lobster, according to the view.

It looks around for a few seconds, inquisitive about the noise, before swimming away.

“It’s given us a really wonderful head-on piece of imagery… to absolutely definitively identify the species and assess its size in that time,” Associate Prof Barrett told the media.

“We’re really happy to be able to employ a variety of methodologies now and discover how crucial these deeper habitats are for such a rare species,” says the researcher.

The pink handfish is one of 14 species of handfish found in Tasmania, an island off the coast of Australia.

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