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New Population Of Extremely Rare Walking Fish Found In Tasmania

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Divers in Tasmania have discovered a second population of the one of the world's rarest fish. The find sparks hope of a breeding program that may increase the chances of the species' survival.

Rare Walking Fish

The red handfish (Thymichthys politus) is known for their ability to walk on the seafloor using their modified fins. The species was believed to be confined to a reef in Frederick Henry Bay, southeast of Tasmania.

A recent survey at the site found only eight individual fish, which puts estimates of the handfish population in the reef to be between 20 and 40.

Scientists on Wednesday, however, reported finding a small population of the fish in another colony. It also consists of 20 to 40 individuals, effectively doubling the currently known number of the species.

The habitat of the second colony spans over a radius of 20 meters, but researchers decided not to disclose the location yet until conservation plans are already in place.

Divers Nearly Gave Up Before Finding The New Colony Of Red Handfish

The new colony was found after divers from the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) launched a search mission following a tip-off of a red handfish sighting in the area.

The team spent two days trawling on the ocean floor. They nearly gave up when they finally saw a red handfish hidden under some algae. Divers found seven more under the seaweed.

"My dive partner went to tell the other divers that we were going to start heading in and I was half-heartedly flicking algae around when, lo and behold, I found a red handfish," IMAS diver Antonia Cooper said.

Big Find

Scientists considered the find as something big considering the lethargic nature of the fish, which makes it difficult to find them.

"You have to pretty much lift up the individual piece of seaweed that they're sitting under to find them," IMAS scientist Rick Stuart-Smith said. "They feel very exposed when you move their piece of seaweed and hug the bottom."

Researchers also found that the habitat of the second population is not identical to that of the first location, which means that the species are not critically dependent on a particular set of local conditions.

Stuart-Smith said that the discovery may lead to a captive breeding program. It also gives hope that there could be more populations of red handfish out there that are yet to be discovered.

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