Ziebell's handfish

November 23, 2020

Ziebell’s handfish is named in honour of an avid diver and fisher named Allen ‘Alby’ Ziebell, who collected some of the original specimens. We were lucky to be contacted by Alby’s son Ian, who follows the handfish work – and helped fill in some of the details about his father and why this fish was named after him.

Allen and Irene Ziebell had moved to Hobart from Yeppoon, Queensland in 1974 to settle into a life of abalone diving and to raise their family. Alby had been skin diving and SCUBA diving since a very young age and was often seen with a camera around his neck. While in Tasmania he participated in several game fishing competitions and captures of numerous World, Australian and Tasmanian fishing records. Alby towed a boat all around Tasmania to chase the weather and dived most of the coast of Tasmania in the years searching for abalone. But he was also fascinated by the marine life in general.

Alby loved the ocean and spent most of his life on and in the water taking photos of the sea creatures. He was regarded by some as one of Australia’s most talented underwater photographers – eventually going on to record the first images of the schooling hammerhead sharks (at Osprey Reef, Queensland), as well as some of the early images of several handfish species.

During his time in Hobart, Alby had collected some handfish from his dives in south-eastern Tasmania and had them in a fish tank at home in late 1970s. It was at this time that Alby was contacted by Peter Last (senior curator at CSIRO's Australian National Fish Collection) to view the fish. Alby ended up donating the fish to CSIRO for research purposes – and it was these specimens that were first used among the first of this species to be studied.

Dr Peter Last said that Allen Ziebell had made a significant contribution to the collection of the species and drew considerably attention to handfishes in general – and as such, the species was named in his honour (named by Last and Gledhill, 2009).

~ Alby Ziebell 1949-2003

More on Ziebell’s handfish

Ziebell’s handfish is Critically Endangered and is known from eastern and southern Tasmania but has not been seen since ~2005. It is thought to reach around 15cm and is found in 10-20m depth.

Colour morphs - Note there appears to be different colour morphs of Ziebell’s handfish – once with pale body, purplish patches dorsally, and striking, yellow-edged fins, being the typical Ziebell’s colour morph. However, 1981, a local underwater photographer, Ian Loney, captured an image of a large, densely mottled, purplish handfish at Waterfall Bay (Tasman Peninsula) at about 10 m depth – this form has been subsequently referred to as ‘Loney’s Handfish’ (Last and Gledhill, 2009).


Last, P., Gledhill, D., 2009. A revision of the Australian handfishes (Lophiiformes: Brachionicthyidae), with descriptions of three new genera and nine new species. Zootaxa 2252, 1-77.

Images courtesy of Ian Ziebell (and cover image by Andrew Green). We'd like to thank Ian Ziebell for passing on the images and words for this article, and Dr Peter Last for his input.


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