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A Helping Hand for Endangered Fish at SEA LIFE Melbourne

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: March 22, 2021 7:10 pm

sea life Melbourne aquarium

A spotted handfish in its aquarium at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Photo Credit: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium have taken an important step forward in their breeding program for the endangered spotted handfish.

Spotted handfish are an endangered species which is endemic to the Derwent estuary in Tasmania which is under threat from habitat degradation. SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium work as part of a group of scientists to protect these fish both through work in the wild and captive breeding programs.

sea life Melbourne aquarium

A spotted handfish is prepared for its examination at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Photo Credit: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

This week the aquarium took a further step forward in its breeding program for the species as they determined the gender of the five spotted handfish currently in their care. Until now one of the biggest challenges for the breeding project has been not knowing the gender of the fish in the aquarium's care.

To help the aquarium determine this they invited the Unusual Pet Vets to bring their special ultrasound machine to the aquarium to determine whether the internal organs were those of a male or female.

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“We were pleased to discover that we have one male and four female handfish, which means that we definitely have a chance of being able to breed them and further contribute to the conservation of the species – before we were just guessing. Not only is it a fundamental part of any breeding program to be able to distinguish the sex of the creatures, we were also able to collect valuable information that will be critical to future breeding programs,” said Paul Hale, Head of Curatorial at SEA LIFE Melbourne.


“Our goal is to contribute to a head-start program. This would involve us breeding the handfish and raising the juveniles at the Aquarium. When they are large enough, we would release the young fish into their natural habitat in the Derwent Estuary. This program increases their chance of survival as the fish would complete the most vulnerable stages of their life at the Aquarium and can then go on to breed and continue the circle of life in the wild,” continued Paul.

sea life Melbourne aquarium

A spotted handfish is prepared for its examination at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Photo Credit: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Towards the end of 2020 the team at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium worked to replicate the habitat of the handfish through changes in temperature, lighting and salinty levels.

These efforts were rewarded with two of the females laying eggs. Unfortunately these eggs were not fertile but this has given the team hope for the coming weeks.

“We’re proud to work with the CSIRO, Seahorse World and all the other members of the Handfish Conservation Project to help save this rare Australian fish. Handfish are fascinating and iconic creatures for Tasmania and we are happy to be able to support their populations while also raising awareness of their plight,” said Paul.

sea life Melbourne aquarium

A spotted handfish is given an ultrasound by a vet at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Photo Credit: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Learn more about SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium on their website – SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

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