Rare photograph captures ocean creature not seen in 27 years

The species was discovered in 1986, but it hadn't been seen since last century.

It’s a creature so hard to find, it hasn’t been seen since last century, but underwater researchers believe they’ve snapped a rare photo of a narrowbody handfish.

The last time this fish was seen in 1996, season one of Friends was airing in Australia, the first Mission Impossible film was at the movies, the Fugees were topping the charts, and you could still smoke in nightclubs.

Even if you look closely at the picture, the bottom-dwelling fish is hard to see due to its camouflage. The species was first discovered in 1986 and is only known by two specimens.

A picture showing a narrowbody handfish underwater.
Can you spot the rare narrowbody handfish? Source: CSIRO

Marine experts 'excited' by 'lucky' handfish find

Understandably, the CSIRO team that found the ground-dwelling fish off Tasmania’s remote Flinders Island consider themselves extremely “lucky” to have seen one again.

Originally photographed in July at a depth of 292 metres, the creature was identified by Dr Candice Untiedt. “I was pretty excited to find the handfish,” she said.

“I know that this is a rare and special fish. And that the chances of seeing one in this environment and capturing it on the deep tow camera are very rare. It's an important discovery.”

A closeup of the narrowbody handfish.
A closeup of the narrowbody handfish that was caught on camera. Source: CSIRO

This year’s expedition by the CSIRO’s 94-metre ship RV Investigator has a mission to understand how the changing climate is impacting Australia’s marine ecosystems.

Commercial anglers have told the team that despite reduced pressure on fisheries the stocks are declining. The team hopes to measure how the ocean has changed since the last research was undertaken in the 1990s.

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