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Diver Was Just About To Surface — When She Spotted The Rarest Thing

His fins are like tiny little hands!

People used to think that there were only a couple dozen individuals left of the red handfish, considered one of the rarest fish in the world.

Scientists thought that this critically endangered fish — a distinctive-looking fish whose fins, shaped like hands, walk along the ocean floor — lived in just one little nook of the sea, Frederick Henry Bay, off the southeast coast of Tasmania, Australia. But what divers discovered on a plunge late last month surprised everyone. 

Rarest red handfish discovered near Tasmania
Antonia Cooper/Reef Life Survey

After a person off the coast of Tasmania thought he glimpsed the rare fish, a team of divers from the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies (IMAS) and the Reef Life Survey (RLS) went looking to see if this sighting was fact or fiction. 

Antonia Cooper/Reef Life Survey

After a while searching the water, there was no sign of the colorful fish. And the divers were just about to give up. 

“We were diving for approximately three and a half hours and at about the two hour mark we were all looking at each other thinking this is not looking promising,” Antonia Cooper, IMAS technical officer, said. “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."

Then suddenly she saw a glimpse of something reddish. 

Rarest red handfish discovered off Tasmanian coast, Australia
Antonia Cooper/Reef Life Survey

"Lo and behold, I found a red handfish," Cooper said. "That was very exciting!"

In total, the divers noticed eight red handfish in that region — several miles from the other known population of rare red handfish. And this is really significant for the potential survival of the species. 

"It means there’s potentially a bigger gene pool and also that there are potentially other populations out there that we’re yet to find," Cooper said.

Red handfish discovered by divers off the coast of Tasmania
Antonia Cooper/Reef Life Survey

“Finding this second population is a huge relief," Rick Stuart-Smith, IMAS scientist and cofounder of RLS, added. "It effectively doubles how many we think are left on the planet.”