Although once widespread, the species is now clinging to existence in just one location: a single estuary near the city of Hobart, in Tasmania. Their numbers have been in decline due to many mostly human-caused factors like pollution, climate change and the introduction of invasive species. In 2002, spotted handfish were listed as "critically endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, though these same threats persist.
Marine biologists already knew things were dire for the species, but the specter of extinction could be closer than ever before. A recent survey in the species' final stronghold, the Derwent river estuary, counted just 79 spotted handfish left.
Researchers from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) believe it may be time to intervene to save this species by creating a safety net population apart from spotted handfish found in the wild.
"It would be very prudent to think about captive breeding of the fish at this stage," CSIRO scientist Tim Lynch told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We're organizing a workshop to cost it out, and see what we can do."