The reappearance of the “extinct” handfish

It is indeed a rare specimen. Where did it appear? In a coastal area of the island of Tasmania (Australia). It was thought to have completely disappeared from the wild. Therefore, the reappearance of the “extinct” handfish was quite a surprise.

This lifeless specimen found, measuring between 8 and 10 centimeters in length, is a spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus). This is one of seven species of handfish endemic to Tasmania and Bass Strait. There are a total of 14 species of handfish in Australia. The researchers provided details. They said that the sighting of the spotted handfish is not only exciting because of what was found, but also because of the location.

Reappearance of extinct handfish surprises biologists.
Reappearance of extinct handfish surprises biologists.


“Until last weekend’s find, we thought this population of spotted handfish at Primrose Sands was locally extinct. And it had been since before 2005. We also searched a few years ago, but didn’t find a single fish. This gives us reason to look again,” explained Carlie Devine in a statement. He is a research technician with CSIRO, the Australian research agency.

The number of spotted handfish, once abundant on Tasmania’s east coast, has plummeted over the past three decades. Individuals are solitary and small, making them very difficult to find.

In 1996, the spotted handfish was listed as critically endangered on the IUCN red list. It became the first marine fish to be so listed. “They are rare and elusive. Before the 1990s, spotted handfish were easy to find. However, the population has split and now there are only nine isolated populations,” Devine said.

It is an especially rare and striking fish.
It is an especially rare and striking fish.

Reasons for its disappearance

The cause of the decline in spotted handfish numbers is believed to be known. It began when they became bycatch of dredge fisheries. These work close inshore looking for scallops. The operation was exacerbated by coastal infrastructure and the invasive North Pacific starfish. Soon, it began to destroy their preferred habitats and spawning substrates. The reappearance of the “extinct” handfish could be a sign of slow recovery.

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