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New population of rare fish found in Tasmania

Ever since our young age, we have seen and draw fish with fins. But have you ever seen a fish with hands?

A group of scientists found a small population of fish that “walk” along the seabed off Australia’s south coast in Tasmania, a report said on Wednesday.

The Red Handfish (Thymichthys Politus) is found only in south-eastern Tasmania, an isolated island state, and until last week only about 20 to 40 of them were identified in the Frederick Henry Bay, the University of Tasmania said.

The new group also of 20 to 40 individuals inhabits a small area whose location the researchers decided not to disclose until the conservation plan for the area was discussed, international news reported.

It was discovered after a member of the public reported seeing a red handfish in the area and a team of seven divers spent two days searching the reef.

The first time the Red Handfish, whose size is between six and 13.5cm long, was sighted was in the 19th century near Port Arthur, in Tasmania, one of the places on the planet which is home to rare and unique endangered species.

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The habitat of this second colony of handfish is small within a radius of 20 meters because instead of swimming they walk on the sea floor.

The finding was made last week while the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies of the University of Tasmania was conducting a reef life survey after the fish was spotted by a private individual.

“Finding this second population is a huge relief as it effectively doubles how many we think is left on the planet,” IMAS Scientist Rick Stuart-Smith said.

The researcher stressed that the new habitat is different from the first population, which would make the fish not completely dependent on local conditions.

“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,” Stuart-Smith added.

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Dr. Stuart-Smith said the recent discovery could lead to a captive breeding program and has researchers optimistic more red handfish are out there.

‘It was considered too risky to remove any egg masses or individuals because it could be the last population,’ he said.

‘There’s going to be a re-discussion (about breeding).’

The similar endangered spotted handfish, also found only in Tasmania, is being bred in captivity.

The handfish has an elongated body and uses their pectoral fins in an unusual manner to walk slowly over the sea bottom in search of food such as crustaceans and worms, the Australian Ministry of Environment said.

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