THIS IS ONE fish that will always be caught red-handed. Ok, bad pun, but it is an interesting fish.
Endemic to Tasmania’s eastern coast, the red handfish is so named because of its apparent use of its fins as hands, even using a type of walking motion on the seafloor.
It’s a benthic fish, preferring to hang around the sandy and rocky bottoms of the seafloor. They’ve been observed eating small crustaceans and worms.
There are two colour varieties – one with red embellishments (seen in the image above) and the other a right red all over. It grows from about 6cm to about 13.5cm long.
The red handfish was first discovered in the 1800s around Port Arthur.
In the 1980s a small population was found on the Actaeon Islands, south of Hobart, and the biggest population to date was found on a reef off Primrose Sands around Hobart (10 individuals) in the 1990s.
However, in a survey in 2005, no handfish were found in those areas.
They may be hanging on, because in 2010, three individuals were found in the Primrose Sands location.
Though the species hasn’t had a full, systematic survey of its numbers, it seems that populations are few and far between, and there’s likely to be not more than 1000 individuals in the wild, and likely only hundreds.
The red handfish was known as the Brachionichthys politus, but in 2009, it was re-categorised as Thymichthys politus.
Threats to red handfish include poaching for use as pets. Its low reproductive rate and low dispersal rate make is a challenge for the species’ survival. Fragmentation of the populations is also a challenge for reproductive success.
These wonderful drawings of balloonfish and pufferfish were made during, or shortly after, the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842.
Known as “U.S. Ex. Ex.” for short, or the “Wilkes Expedition” after its commanding officer Charles Wilkes, the exploratory voyage traveled the Pacific Ocean and collected more than 60,000 plant and bird specimens and the seeds of 648 species.
This sheer volume of data collected was of major importance to the growth of science in the United States, in particular the emerging field of oceanography.
Accompanying the naval officers and the many scientists were two artists, Joseph Drayton and Alfred Agate, who are behind the images presented here, along with a man named John Richard who was hired upon the expedition’s return to prepare the illustrative plates for the work on ichthyology.
According to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, which house the works, this particular set of images didn’t quite make the grade, however, as they were found in envelopes marked as “rejected” or “rejected for publication”.
From the dark, chilly waters they materialized—massive beings with large eyes that I knew were watching my every move from deep below long before I ever saw them.
The fish were nearly 10 feet in length and several feet thick, weighing around 1,000 pounds, and moved unlike anything else I had seen underwater.
Spinning around in circles I would see them rocket up from the depths, turn on a dime while flashing colors, then disappear back into the gloom. At least a dozen of them swam around me, and I scanned all axes trying to follow their movements. As they passed by I rolled in the wake of their mighty bulk.
Mesmerized by this fluid scene, I forced myself out of the trance I was in and began making pictures, but just kept repeating over and over in my head, “these are perfect oceanic creatures.”
They were the creatures that had haunted my dreams and stirred my soul. Feeling at times like Ahab, I’d pursued these animals for almost two decades; a quest not to capture, but to photograph.
And finally, I was here, on assignment for National Geographic magazine, tasked with bringing back images of these elusive and enigmatic beasts. I was in the northern realm of the last of the giants.
The mandarinfish is one of only two known species that produces a blue pigment. (Credit: Jim Trodel/Flickr)
by Becky Crew
One of the most beautiful fish in the ocean, but the mandarinfish (Synchiropus splendidus) has got so much more going on for it than all those pretty colours.
At home in the sheltered lagoons and inshore reefs of the Pacific Ocean, ranging from the Ryukyu Islands off the coast of Japan, to warm Australian waters, this little dragonet is covered in tiny spines to inject a toxic mucus into anyone who tries to handle and/or eat it.
The mandarinfish contains two types of secretary cells in its colourful epidermis – one that produces a thick mucus coating to protect it from the elements, and another that produces a toxin to protect it from predators.
And not only is this toxic mucus coating dangerous, particularly if it makes it into a predator’s open wound, but reportedly, it smells disgusting.
“Every scientist and book [who] talks about the mandarinfish makes mention of its strong, unpleasant smell,” says Esther Inglis-Arkell at io9. “
That stink is not incidental. The mandarinfish needs the smell, and the spines, because it lacks one of the most basic protective measures in the marine world: It doesn’t have scales.”
There’s nothing like thick mucus and an unpleasant stench to turn someone off their potential meal.