| Recollections of the Past 30 years pursuing Coelacanths
Jerome Hamlin, creator dinofish.com
I think this whole business began in 1984. I had been building small home novelty robots in New York City, at my small company, ComRo Inc., and sold one to New York Aquarium for use in its sea lion show. One of the sea lions was trained to follow arm signals from the robot and the two made the front page of the New York Times. I’d met the director of the Aquarium and asked if I could go as a volunteer on one of their collecting trips for beluga whales, a creature I loved as they reminded me of Schmoos. I would be the photographer- an old hobby. In Churchill, Manitoba, there was an established technique for capturing young Belugas- now banned, I believe. They were separated from the pod and corralled into the shallows. Once on stretchers, they were moved to a holding tank and observed for several days to monitor their health and stability in captivity. If all looked good, the young whales were carefully placed in transport crates with life support, which were then loaded on a charter transport aircraft for the flight back to New York. There the process was reversed, releasing them into their new home at the aquarium. New York Aquarium had kept belugas for many years, and there had been some successful breeding programs,
A few observers from other aquariums had been along on the trip, and I had off handedly asked them what the most challenging animal would be to for capture for an aquarium. They said the coelacanth. I filed that away. I knew vaguely what the coelacanth was: a prehistoric fish found (quite a while ago) alive, living off Africa. Quentin Keynes, my old travel mentor had mentioned it. Something about meeting Eric Hunt, and interviewing JLB Smith in the 1950’s for an article for National Geographic which was never published. There was a young woman along on the trip, also as a volunteer and we joked about doing that one day. A year went by.
The Explorers Club Flag
In 1985, I had a call from someone at the Explorers Club, where I’d been a member since 1969- though not active since the mid ‘70’s. They needed a volcano expert for a proposed trip to Ecuador. I had made a film about a volcanic eruption in Iceland back in 1973. But why were they calling me. I was hardly an expert on volcanoes. Well, it seems in the Club’s Roster, I had listed myself as interested in volcanoes. In the roster, my name was next to that of Haroun Tazieff, perhaps the most preeminent volcano expert in the world at that time. The problem was he lived in Paris and I was only a few blocks away.
The trip sounded interesting. We were to bring back some volcanic samples to the Lamont -Doherty Earth Observatory, an affiliate of Columbia University. I helped write the proposal and we were soon an Explorers Club Flag accredited trip, going under the name of The Sangay/Cotopaxi Petrographic Expedition. The expedition was a great success, and I had a dramatic moment, where drawing on my experience with the Icelandic volcano years earlier, I was able to gauge the volcanic bursts from Sangay, and time my rush into a valley on the flanks to grab a lava bomb just when it came to rest after impacting and bouncing down the valley. We called the sample the “hot rock” as it warmed my back pack on the return to camp. Now sample collecting was ingrained in my psyche.