Extremely Rare Pink Handfish Spotted Hanging Out Near 140-Year-Old Tasmanian Shipwreck

To mark the 140th anniversary of the SS Tasman’s sinking in Tasmanian waters, a group of three divers decided to visit the shipwreck. Despite the technical challenges of getting to the boat, the team were pleased to see not only the wreck remains on the sea floor, but also catch a glimpse of a critically endangered and frankly furious-looking pink handfish (Brachiopsilus dianthus).

Handfish are exceptionally rare, with only a few populations found in the waters off Tasmania and the coast of Australia. While one project is actively trying to breed the population to increase numbers, this encounter was a chance sighting by the three technical divers; Brad Turner, James Parkinson, and Bob Van Der Velde. The diver was organized by the Scuba Diving Tasmania and Eaglehawk Dive Centre.

Pink handfish only measure 13.6 centimeters (5 inches) total length and, according to the IUCN, this species is only known from five specimens and has not been seen in the last 20 years. Likewise, another species called the narrowbody handfish (Pezichthys compressus) was spotted for the first time since 1996 last year.

“We were there to explore the wreck, but the handfish stole the show,” Turner said in a statement sent to IFLScience. 


The SS Tasman was a steamship that sank in November 1883 after striking a rock near Hypolite Rock off the Tasman Peninsula. The boat then lay undiscovered on the seafloor for over 100 years. 

Associate Professor at the Institute for Antarctic and Marine Studies (IMAS) at the University of Tasmania, Neville Barrett, described the discovery as “remarkable and extremely valuable”. “It gives us hope that the pink handfish have some deeper and cooler water refuge from the warming coastal waters that are threatening the existence of many Tasmanian marine species.” 

The divers think this might be the first time ever that photographs of this species have been taken by members of the public, as previous images of pink handfish have been captured by remotely controlled and autonomous underwater vehicles. 

Since the initial dive, the team have returned to the wreck site three more times to collect more images of the handfish. “There was a fair bit of excitement when we returned to the dive site and spotted a second pink handfish, just 10 meters [33 feet] from the first.” said Brad. 

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