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The One Minute Coelacanth: A Brief Overview

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In the "Greatest Fish Story Ever Told", the first living coelacanth known to modern science was discovered in 1938 when a young museum curator named Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer was invited down to the docks to examine a strange fish brought in on the trawler, Nerine . She sent a sketch to fish expert JLB Smith, who soon identified the fish as a living coelacanth- a word meaning hollow spine in Greek. The coelacanth fishes were known only from fossils, the most recent of which dated from the late Cretaceous 65 million years ago, so the discovery created a world wide sensation and was called the "biological find of the century"- the same as finding a living dinosaur. The discovery was given the scientific name Latimeria chalumnae and attempts to taxonomically classify it ensued.

Using a reward poster, Smith continued the search for a second coelacanth which was finally identified in 1952 at the Comoro Islands between the tip of Madagascar and East Africa. Smith was so paranoid that he slept with the coelacanth on the way back from the Comoros to South Africa. Coelacanths were first filmed from a submersible at the Comoros in 1987. The fish were found to do headstands! and have complex fin movements. (These islands became the only confirmed home of the living coelacanth, even though specimens were trawled off Mozambique in 1991 and Madagascar starting in 1995. At first these catches were thought to have drifted on currents from the Comoros. In 1997-98 at Manado, Indonesia, Mark Erdmann confirmed two specimens, too far away- and with opposing currents- to have drifted from the Comoros. From genetic analysis of a single specimen, this coelacanth was declared a new species: Latimeria menadoensis . Since then specimens of the original species, have been confirmed living off of South Africa in 2000, Kenya,2001, Tanzania/Zanzibar,2003, and possibly even in the South Pacific,2007. . In 2009, the first pictures and films of a living juvenile coelacanth were made in Indonesia by an expedition from a Japanese aquarium.

Many expeditions ,often amidst controversy, have sought out the elusive coelacanth, and an extensive bibliography of published papers has emerged. From the time of the first fossil coelacanth named in 1836 by Louis Agassiz, the fish was a curiosity because of its apparent "proto legs" and the protruding tab on its tail the posterior or epicaudal fin. The living coelacanth created a sensation as a possible "missing link" between fish and amphibians, though few if any recent classifications(text), give it that distinction. Seemingly immune to the pressures of natural selection, the coelacanth changed little (except in size and possibly in habitat) over the eons. Creationists have used this as evidence against the theory of Evolution, but most observers see the coelacanth as a startling, and loveable (Old Four Legs) messenger from the past. An extensive popular culture, celebrating the fish in poem and song- and many other bizarre ways has grown up around the fish.

Coelacanths are considered an endangered species (C.I.T.E.S. Appendix I)and conservation efforts, including those supported by this site have sprung up to assist them to thrive for eons to come.

This is the web page of the Coelacanth Rescue Mission under the direction of Jerome F Hamlin. Yes, we have unique Coelagear to help our mission.Your feedback is invited.



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