Handfish: Meet the Strange Creature That Walks in the Depths

Despite having an excellent habitat to survive, the handfish is in critical danger.

Gabriela Castillo

If you ever forgot about the extraordinary diversity that lives beneath the sea, this fish with hands or “handfish” is a good example of the great peculiarity of marine life. From white whales to fish that look like unicorns, everything in the depths seems to be part of a fantasy world.

It still seems ironic that we know much more about space than about the ocean floor on Earth. We want to believe that exploration conditions are more complex in the sea than in the stars themselves, or at least that there is more interest in discovering the cosmos than the depths.

However, there are a few who are attracted to the vastness of the ocean, and among their explorations, they discovered truly wonderful creatures. Such is the case of the handfish, yes, you read that right. Well, they’re not exactly human hands, but they are curious limbs that look like hands.

Handfishh - handfish: meet the strange creature that walks in the depths

The Handfish is in Great Danger

The handfish, also known as Brachionichthys hirsutus, stands out for having pectoral fins that work perfectly for walking and moving along the sea floor. Thanks to them, this species can literally walk on the sand, causing a very peculiar scene.

However, their presence can’t be enjoyed everywhere. They can only be found on the southeast coast of Tasmania and Australia, where there are enough crustaceans, shells, and worms to feed on and protect their eggs.

Despite having an excellent habitat to survive, the handfish is in critical danger due to the invasion of North Pacific starfish. These seastars feed on handfish eggs, which contributed to the fish being listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Handfish - handfish: meet the strange creature that walks in the depths

Undoubtedly, this is a bleak outlook for the handfish, and it would make it the second species in this family to disappear. The first loss was the smooth handfish, a species that was considered a cousin of the handfish. The smooth handfish was the first marine fish species to be classified as a case of “modern extinction.” Therefore, the work of nesting for the handfish becomes increasingly important every day.

Sightings in the depths are an excellent sign that things are going well for them, although it is not a reflection of the difficulties the species faces at a general level. For now, their existence is a privilege for the planet, and getting to know them is another way to ensure their long life in the oceans.

Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera.