Daniel Gledhill, CSIRO:
Nine new species of handfish
May 24, 2010
The new species are described in a
review of the handfish family by Hobart-based fish taxonomists from the
CSIRO Wealth from Oceans Flagship, Daniel Gledhill and Peter Last.
A Spotted Handfish
Supported by funding from the Department of the Environment, Water,
Heritage and the Arts, the review of the handfishes brings the family to
14 known species – six found only in Tasmania and one known from only
one specimen possibly collected in Tasmania by early European explorers,
yet not recorded since. It also deepens concerns about declining
populations of some handfishes.
“Handfishes are small, often strikingly patterned or colorful, sedentary
fish that tend to ‘walk’ on the seabed on hand-like fins, rather than
swim. Fifty million-years ago, they ‘walked’ the world’s oceans, but now
they exist only off eastern and southern Australia,“ Mr Gledhill says.
Dr Peter Last, CSIRO “They are of great importance to understanding the
origins of Australian marine life, the role of Australia as a refuge
during previous periods of change, and the effects on living species of
habitat alteration and rapid climate change.“
Dr Last says handfishes are extremely vulnerable to environmental change
– introduced species, pollution, siltation, fishing, sea-temperature
rise and coastal development – due to their scarcity, patchy
distribution, life history strategy, low breeding rates and poor
(The Spotted Handfish is listed as endangered under the Environment
Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Red Handfish
and Ziebell’s Handfish are listed as vulnerable.)
“There is evidence of shallow-water species disappearing quickly, from
being common in certain areas a few decades ago, to apparently being
locally extinct in some areas,” Dr Last says.
“It’s not just two or three handfish species of concern. Our work has
described nine new species, each with its own environmental niches and
needs, and several of these appear to have very restricted
distributions, and/or occur in very low abundance.“
Mr Gledhill says the handfishes have proven difficult to classify due to
their rarity and a lack of specimens.
of the newly named species, the Pink Handfish, is known from only four
specimens and was last recorded off the Tasman Peninsula in 1999. The
Pink Handfish will feature in a photographic exhibition of Australia’s
marine biodiversity that opens today (21 May) at Questacon in Canberra.
The exhibition is mounted by the Marine Biodiversity Hub, a national
research partnership charged with furthering knowledge of Australia’s
oceans, and coincides with the United Nations' International Year of
Biodiversity (2010) and International Biodiversity Day, 22 May 2010.
Professor Nic Bax of CSIRO and the University of Tasmania, director of
the Marine Biodiversity Hub, says the exhibition offers a wonderful
opportunity to acquaint young Australians with the beauty and challenges
presented by Australia’s vast ocean realm.
“More than half of Australia’s territory is ocean, and some 95 per cent
of this world is yet to be explored,” he says.