Aussies Hope To Captive Breed Spotted Handfish

A recent survey counted only 79 Brachionichthys hirsutus in 100 locations in Australia.

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The spotted handfish is found in small numbers off the coast of Australia. Screengrab via CSIRO/Youtube
John Virata

The spotted handfish (Brachionichthys hirsutus), a diminutive little marine fish that once was found in oceans around the world has virtually disappeared from the sea floor and is known to now only reside in Australia’s Hobart’s Derwent estuary. Scientists with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) say that the little fish is so endangered that they have counted just 79 fish in 100 locations that they have explored.

The scientists are now seriously considering starting a captive breeding program to help augment the known numbers that are left in the wild, according to CSIRO senior research scientist Tim Lynch.

“It would be very prudent to think about captive breeding of the fish at this stage,” Dr. Lynch told The Sydney Morning Herald. “We’re organizing a workshop to cost it out, and see what we can do.”

The fish is unique in that it has a perpetual frown face and uses its fins to walk around on the sea floor, similar to that of mudskippers walking around on land. When it becomes threatened, it spreads its fins out to appear bigger to a would be predator.

The fish is listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The fish’s breeding habits may help to result in its demise because rather than spread its eggs as it lays them to let the currents move the eggs about, the handfish lays the eggs in a nest and guards them. This coupled with the fact that the invasive north Pacific seastar (Asterias amurensis) is devastating the handfish’s native habitat and the structures that the handfish lay their eggs around, leads to a negative future for the fish. Other issues that have had negative and detrimental effects on the hand fish include environmental changes. An algal mat from nutrient runoff has covered one location in which the fish was once prevalent. Another location was destroyed by the building of yacht moorings, and a third location was destroyed by the construction of storm water drains.

Hopefully the captive breeding of this species will help scientists in Australia to start a successful program to help bolster this little fish’s numbers in the wild.

John B. Virata has been keeping fish since he was 10 years old.  He currently keeps an 80 gallon cichlid tank, a 20 gallon freshwater community tank and a 29 gallon BioCube with a Percula clown, a huge blue green chromis, and a firefish all in his kitchen, and a 55 gallon FOWLR tank with a pair of Ocellaris clowns, two blue green chromis, a six line wrasse, a peppermint shrimp, assorted algae and a few aiptasia anemones in his living room. Follow him on Twitter @johnvirata

Article Categories:
Fish · Freshwater Fish