SYDNEY – A group of scientists found a small population of fish that “walk” along the seabed, off the coast of Tasmania, southern Australia, according to a University of Tasmania report released on Wednesday.
The Red Handfish (Thymichthys politus) is found only in southeastern Tasmania and until last week only about 20 to 40 of them had been identified in Frederick Henry Bay, according to a statement from the University.
The new group, also consisting of between 20 and 40 individuals, inhabits a small area whose location the researchers decided not to disclose until the conservation plan for the area is discussed.
The habitat of this second colony of handfish is small, a space of 50 by 20 meters, because instead of swimming they walk on the seafloor.
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 were spotted by a private individual.
“Finding this second population is a huge relief as it effectively doubles how many we think are left on the planet,” IMAS Scientist Dr. 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,” Dr. Rick Stuart-Smith added.
These Red Handfish, whose size is between 6 and 13.5 centimeters long, were first sighted 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.
The handfish have an elongated body and use their pectoral fins in an unusual manner to walk slowly over the sea bottom in search of food such as crustaceans and worms, according to the Australian Ministry of Environment.