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Scientists confirm first marine fish extinction of modern times

Scientists have made a depressing discovery – the first marine fish of modern times has been declared extinct.

The smooth handfish has officially been wiped from the south-eastern Australian waters due to habitat decline, pollution and destructive fishing practices.

The bottom-dweller was one of 14 species of handfish, which use highly modified pectoral fins to ‘walk’ along the seabed.

Smooth handfish were first discovered in the early 1800s during a scientific exploration, but the only thing left of the species is a preserved specimen collected during that dive.

Scientists have made a depressing discovery – the first marine fish of modern times has been declared extinct. The smooth handfish has officially been wiped from the south-eastern Australian waters due to habitat decline, pollution and destructive fishing practices

Scientists have made a depressing discovery – the first marine fish of modern times has been declared extinct. The smooth handfish has officially been wiped from the south-eastern Australian waters due to habitat decline, pollution and destructive fishing practices

Jessica Meeuwig, a professor at the University of Western Australia and director of the university’s Center for Marine Futures, told Mongabay: ‘Some claim that the ocean is too vast for marine wildlife to go extinct.’

‘But ocean industrialization from fishing, mining, oil and gas exploration, shipping and infrastructure development is catching up with the scale of industrialization on land and with it the risk of extinction for marine wildlife.’

There are still 13 species of handfish living in the Australian waters, all of which range in size, shape and color.

The all have fins along their backs and small eyes on the sides of their point head.

Smooth handfish were first discovered in the early 1800s during a scientific exploration, but the only thing left of the species is a preserved specimen collected during that dive

Smooth handfish were first discovered in the early 1800s during a scientific exploration, but the only thing left of the species is a preserved specimen collected during that dive

But what makes these creatures so unique is their lack of swim bladder that helps them control their buoyancy.

Instead, their front fins are flat, allowing them to use them as feet to walk on the seafloor.

Handfish also have flamboyant antenna-like features growing out of the top of their head to lure prey, since they are unable to swim.

Humans have hunted different marine animals into extinction, including the monk seal that was wiped out in 1952, but this is the first time a marine fish species has disappeared from our planet in modern times.

Researchers at Fauna and Flora International, a non-government conservation group, said:’ ‘The story of the smooth handfish should stop us in our tracks and make us think long and hard about what price we’re willing to pay for our seafood, about what lies behind the notion of ‘sustainable’ fisheries.’

The bottom-dweller was one of 14 species of handfish, which use highly modified pectoral fins to 'walk' along the seabed

The bottom-dweller was one of 14 species of handfish, which use highly modified pectoral fins to ‘walk’ along the seabed

The team believes fishing activities had a large hand in the extinction of the smooth handfish.

The scientists note in their Redlist assessment that ‘this species was probably impacted, through both direct mortality as bycatch and destruction of habitat, by the large historical scallop fishery that was active in the region through the 20th century until the fishery collapsed in 1967.’

However, fishermen were not hunting the smooth handfish specifically, the unlucky creatures were collected in scallop nets.

However, Only four of the 13 handfish species have been spotted in the past 20 years leading experts to believe many more may have been lost to extinction. Pictured is the Ziebell's handfish, which is a critically endangered speices

However, Only four of the 13 handfish species have been spotted in the past 20 years leading experts to believe many more may have been lost to extinction. Pictured is the Ziebell’s handfish, which is a critically endangered speices

The red handfish is one of the handfish species that is still thriving in the Australian waters

The red handfish is one of the handfish species that is still thriving in the Australian waters

Jemina Stuart-Smith, a research fellow at the Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, told Mongabay: ‘I think people should be concerned about the extinction of any species, especially ones that humans are likely to have caused.’

‘We don’t know enough about handfish to know what their ecological role is [and if extinction] will impact the ecosystems that they are a part [of], or whether it [the underlying causes] will lead to other extinctions.

‘The Smooth handfish became extinct before we had a chance to study them.’

However, Only four of the 13 handfish species have been spotted in the past 20 years leading experts to believe many more may have been lost to extinction.

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