In July, researchers working with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) caught a rare glimpse of an old friend: The narrowbody handfish. It was a welcome sight not just because of the way this funny-looking creature moves along the ocean floor, but because it marked the first documented sighting of the endangered fish in more than 25 years.
The fish was filmed by the crew of the Investigator research vessel during a month-long expedition to the waters off of Flinder’s Island in Tasmania. The image was captured at a depth of 958 feet. You can see the image below from CSIRO’s press release announcing the discovery.
You can see a close-up view of a different narrowbody handfish specimen below. It shows the handfish’s trademark dorsal fins, which it uses to scoot itself along the sea floor. Like most species of handfish, it can only be found in the waters of the Indian Ocean surrounding southeast Australia and the island of Tasmania.
“I was really hoping to find a deepwater handfish on our cameras during this voyage,” said research tech Carlie Devine. “To find one so early on in the trip was incredible.”
And while Devine notes that she can’t be “100 per cent sure which handfish species it is” without a direct examination, the find was good news for CSIRO. The narrowbody is one of several handfish species listed as endangered or threatened, and it was actually a prior CSIRO expedition that discovered the fish back in 1986. It had not been sighted in the wild since 1996.
In 2020, the smooth handfish (Sympterichthys unipennis) was declared extinct, with fishing, pollution and habitat destruction cited by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as possible causes for its disappearance. CSIRO is actively working to preserve its critically endangered cousin the spotted handfish, collecting samples for breeding so that they can release the juveniles back into the rivers of Tasmania.