The Spotted Hand Fish is an endemic (found nowhere else in the world) fish found in Tasmania, Australia. Its name is derived from its unusual pectoral or side fins which are leg-like and which resemble a human hand. The Spotted Handfish uses these to "walk" on the seabed rather than swim.This is possibly one of the coolest and weirdest looking fish on the planet.
Recently its population has suffered a decline because of the introduction of the Pacific Seastar Asterias amurensis an exotic sea pest originating from Japan. Not only do these two compete for the same food, the Seastar's also feeds on the Spotted Hand Fish's eggs. The industrialisation of areas around traditional breeding areas have resulted in loss of natural habitat (land clearing) as well an increase in metals and urban effluent these have also contributed to the population decline.
The Spotted Handfish dwells around 2-30m under the water on coarse to fine silt and sand. The female lays around 80-250 eggs from September to October in interconnected egg masses attached to any solid object on the seafloor, and it will remain with the eggs for around 7-8 weeks or until hatching. An amazing feature of the fish is that it lacks a larvae stage and when hatched it is a fully formed juvenile (6-7mm in length). The typical diet of a Handfish is worms and small crustacea that are normal found in shallow, shell-filled depressions near low relief rocks projecting from the sand.
Unfortunately, the Handfish will remain near where they were hatched until death. This has two major consequences: They are unable to interact with other colonies which are often very far apart and mix the gene pool; so hatching success is low. And the repopulation of areas where the Handfish have been displaced is likely to be low.
Currently the Commonwealth’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999 protects the Handfish, and the Natural Heritage trust has donated over $390 000 into the protection of the Handfish in the last 5 years. The main aim of these projects is to: raise public awareness through education; identifying threats to the Handfish and it’s natural habitat; and researching and monitoring the existing populations and have been conducted in conjunction with the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Water and the Environment and the CSIRO.