(TASMANIA) IUCN Endangered Pink Handfish Report: A walking fish first identified in 2010 but not seen for over 22 years has been listed as an endangered species #AceNewsDesk report

(TASMANIA) IUCN Endangered Pink Handfish Report: A walking fish first identified in 2010 but not seen for over 22 years has been listed as an endangered species #AceNewsDesk report

#AceNewsReport – Aug.22: Jemina Stuart-Smith, a research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania said the recent endangered listing of the pink handfish in Tasmania brought it in line with recently updated international endangered classifications.

#AceDailyNews says that the pink handfish — from the order of anglerfishes — has only been sighted in the wild five times, and is thought to live in southern Tasmanian waters near the Tasman Peninsula and D’Entrecasteaux Channel.

“Last year we updated the listings for all of the handfish species for the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species,” Dr Stuart-Smith said.

“Now we’re just slowly going through and updating all of the local listings on the Threatened Species Act as well so that they align, and the pink handfish is one of those,” she said.

A strange looking fish seen from the side.
The pink handfish species features a lure to attract prey.(Supplied: CSIRO)

The IUCN’s justification for the pink handfish’s endangered listing cites “other better-known shallow handfish species that are endemic to this same area are highly restricted in range and have experienced serious declines”.

The union noted that the impacts from historical scallop dredging likely took the pink handfish as bycatch and destroyed its habitat, and is thought to have reduced numbers given the “well-documented declines” in the red, Ziebell’s and spotted handfish.

Spotted handfish next to eggs
A spotted handfish with eggs hatched in captivity at CSIRO in 2017.(ABC News)

The pink handfish was last seen on the Tasman Peninsula by a diver in 1999.

But despite not being sighted in the wild since, Dr Stuart-Smith said the species was not considered critically endangered or extinct because of how little there is known about it.

“It is difficult to list these species with very little information … we think we have a range of depths that we think that it occurs in and they’re all within a very small area, all the records came from the D’Entrecasteaux Channel and around the Tasman Peninsula,” she said.

“It ranges from somewhere around 15 metres to almost 40 metres [deep], so it’s outside the depths that most people dive within,” she said.

“It initially was pulled up in fishing pots and found that way … it’s a little bit deeper and without more resources and more funding it’s difficult to study them, so it’s difficult to know [whether it’s extinct].

“But we’re hoping that creating an awareness around this species is one of the ways that we’re going to find out more about it, because it highlights that they’re out there for fishers and those people out in those deeper waters.”

Tasmanian red handfish
A red handfish, which was discovered among a new Tasmanian population in January 2018.(Supplied: Antonia Cooper)

Pink bigger than red

There are only 14 species of handfish that are found in Australian waters, and the majority of species are found in Tasmania, with the spotted handfish, red handfish and Ziebell’s handfish listed as critically endangered.

Although the pink handfish is closely related to the red, spotted and Ziebell’s handfish, Dr Stuart-Smith said it had a distinct look compared to its cousins.

“It has the same modified pectoral fins that it uses to walk on the seafloor rather than swimming, and it has a lure on top of its head that it uses to attract prey,” she said.

“So it looks quite similar to the other handfish that people are familiar with, and it’s actually slightly bigger than what the red handfish are.

“Instead of the rough skin that the spotted and the red handfish have, it actually has smoother looking skin …it has multiple pink colourations along its body and a light pink lure, a light pink body, and belly as well.”

Ziebell's handfish
A pair of Ziebell’s handfish.(Supplied: Andrew Maver)

Dr Stuart-Smith said although the listing of a species as endangered has typically negative connotations, listing the pink handfish as endangered was ultimately beneficial to the scientific community.

“It allows us to promote it in that light, and allows us to leverage more support because of that listing,” she said.

“These animals haven’t been often seen and really we have little information on them, and there’s a real risk that we could lose them before we’ve even had the chance to study them.”

#AceNewsDesk report ……Published: Aug.22: 2021:

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