New population of “world’s rarest fish” discovered


As few as 20 new specimens gives hope to marine researchers.


The extremely rare red handfish.
The extremely rare red handfish.
Antonia Cooper/RLS

An undersea area just the area of two tennis courts holds a newly discovered population of what is thought to be the world’s rarest fish.

The discovery is the result of collaboration between the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS), based in Tasmania, Australia, and a citizen science project called the Reef Life Survey.

Divers from IMAS report that they have located a population of red handfish (Thymichthys politus) at an unnamed site off south-east Tasmania.

The area, just 50 metres long and 20 metres wide, contains an estimated 20 to 40 fish. It is only the second group of the critically endangered species ever discovered. The first, containing about the same number, lives several kilometres away in Frederick Henry Bay.

“Finding this second population is a huge relief as it effectively doubles how many we think are left on the planet,” says IMAS scientist and Reef Life Survey co-founder Rick Stuart-Smith.

“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.”

There are three species of handfish in the waters off southern Tasmania, all rare. The spotted handfish has been seen near the city of Hobart, but the third, Ziebell’s handfish (Brachiopsilus ziebelli) hasn’t been seen in more than a decade and is feared extinct.

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