Chester Zoo Hatch Rare Chameleons After Two Year Wait

Spotted Handfish Bred

in Captivity for the

First Time

Image: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: January 10, 2023 8:30 pm

SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium have bred the critically endangered spotted handfish for the first time in a captive setting. The breakthrough kickstarts their breeding efforts which it is hoped will eventually see the offspring returned to the Derwent Estuary in Tasmania.

The spotted handfish is a rare species of fish which uses hand-like pectoral fins to move along the seabed rather than swimming. They were declared critically endangered in 1996.

This breeding marks the first occasion where the spotted handfish has completed its entire life cycle in a captive setting. Aquarists at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium guided the spotted handfish colony through courtship, fertilizing and hatching in the aquarium habitats.

SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium are part of the National Handfish Recovery Team and works with the Handfish Conservation Project alongside CSIRO, Zoo and Aquarium Association, National Environmental Science Program and Seahorse World. The group is working together to recover and conserve this species.

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Numbers of the spotted handfish have been declining since the 1980s due to the effects of habitat degradation, pollution and invasive species impacts. The species is found exclusively in the Derwent Estuary of Tasmania. Alongside captive breeding efforts the National Handfish Recovery Team are working to protect habitat.

The breeding program at SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium was established in late 2017. To produce this world first captive breeding the team has worked to replicate the changes in temperature, lighting and salinity levels, needed in order to encourage breeding.

“After five years of working with this species, we are excited to present our first spotted handfish babies (known as fry) to the world. They hatched in late January 2022 and have been growing and developing in nursery aquariums in our back-of-house facilities for the past year. They are now ready to go on display. This is an incredible step forward for the program and a major achievement for our team. Previously, handfish eggs have been collected from the wild then hatched in aquariums, but this is the first time the entire process of fertilization, egg laying and hatching has taken place in human care,” said Sam Fawke, Lead Aquarist at SEA LIFE Melbourne.  

Visitors to SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium will be able to meet the juvenile spotted handfish in the their new enclosure within the sea horse pier exhibit. Here they will serve as ambassadors bringing knowledge to the plight of their threatened species.

Our Favourite Spotted Handfish Fact!

The spotted handfish may be cute but these are actually ruthless predators with a special trick to catch their food. An ambush predator, they have a lure on top of their head which attracts worms and shrimp which they can then pounce on and devour. It is also thought that the lure is used during their courtship displays.

Image: SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

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