Spotlight: the coelacanth

To kick off a new year, we’re revisiting one of our favorite creatures of the sea. A hollow-spined fish species dating from  a zillion years ago, coelacanths were thought to be extinct until 1938, when one was caught by fishermen off South Africa’s coast and pulled off the docks by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, curator at a small museum there. The story of how she persevered to get the 127 lb fish ID’d is fascinating – the museum chairman dismissed it as “nothing but a rock cod.”

She described it as having “four limb-like fins and a strange puppy-dog tail” and as “the most beautiful fish I had ever seen”.

This discovery made news ’round the world, sparked ongoing research and expeditions to learn more about these creatures … and reminds us that as much as we know and think we know about the ocean, there’s a lot lurking in those blue-green-gray waters that will continue to surprise us.

You can check out the fish’s biological details here and here and here, review the “top 10 coelacanth news items of 2010”, check out a South African university’s coelacanth ecology research program… and if you’re as taken by these “living fossils” as we are, there’s even an association for the preservation of this elusive fish – it’s based in the Comoro islands, near the area of the sea where most coelacanths have been found since 1938 (check out the association’s photo gallery – coins, stamps, and a “well-known” pair of coelacanths). And for the insatiably curious, there’s an expanding universe of books about the coelacanth.


2 thoughts on “Spotlight: the coelacanth

  1. Sorry but Marjorie C-L didn’t identify the 1938 coelacanth – she had no idea whatsoever what fish it was and it was JLB Smith who made the ID. The fish was caught by the trawler “Nerine” and the skipper, Goosen, saved to fish for M C-L and science. Read M C-L’s first letter to JLB Smith.

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