A rare and critically-endangered fish is gaining attention online after a photograph that captured its awe-inspiring look won an underwater photography contest. The spotted handfish, an odd-looking fish that appears to walk on hand-like fins, was photographed by Nicholas Remy in Tasmania last year.
Remy’s photo was awarded first place in the Ocean Art Underwater Photography 2022 cold water category this year. There are less than 3,000 spotted handfish remaining in the wild, according to the Handfish Conservation Project and the vast majority live in Tasmania’s Derwent Estuary.
There are fourteen species of handfish and three of them — spotted, red and Ziebell’s — are critically endangered. The spotted handfish is threatened by pollution and habitat loss due to sedimentation, the conservation project says.
Spotted handfish are only about 12 centimeters — or 4.7 inches — long, according to Derwent Estuary Program, which aims to restore the waterway, located in Hobart, Tasmania. These fish are spotted or striped and have overgrown pectoral fins, which they use walk and hunt for food like worms.
There are fewer than 10 handfish colonies in the Derwent Estuary, and the species’ eggs are often are swept away by the current. Because of this and environmental threats, the fish became the first of its kind to be listed as endangered under the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999, according to the program. They are also protected under Tasmania’s Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 and there is a recovery plan in place to help them survive.
Remy spent nine hours diving in the Derwent River to take the photos, according to the Ocean Art contest.
Remy described the photography mission on Facebook, saying the visibility during his dive was about 2 meters (6 and a half feet), unless he kicked the bottom, churning up silt or sand, which made the visibility zero. He said he saw a few handfish, and that they tended to flee quickly, but he managed to get a few close-ups of one of the handfish.
Another photo of a bobtail squid that Remy captured in Tasmania was also recognized in the photography contest, taking third place in the macro category. He said these animals are usually photographed with a long macro lens, but he used a wet lens and got so close, the lens was nearly touching the squid.