The Fukushima Aquarium Expeditions

click here for a printable version of the introduction 

       From at least the mid 1980's, Japan showed an almost obsessive interest in the coelacanth(see Expedtions list.) The Emperor (son of Hirohito) even attended a coelacanth dissection.

          In 2002, Japan's Fukushima Aquarium (Aquanarine Fukushima) initiated a seven year coelacanth study and capture program, which was inaugurated at a series of conferences and conventions. The aquarium is under the direction of Dr. Yoshitaki Abe. The program, which would involve the combined use of technical divers and a remotely operated vehicle (R.O.V.) targeted the Indonesian coelacanths.

          In April of '05, a spectacular series of deep technical free dives, under the direction of Forrest Young of Dynasty Marine Associates Inc, searched for coelacanths in the waters of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The dive team, assisted by Mark Erdmann , operated in the vicinity of the Indonesian coelacanth discoveries of the 1990's. A depth of 500ft (150m) was reached for brief periods. Although some new and rare species were found, no coelacanths were observed during the dives. As a tribute to the professionalism of the dive team, no serious events or injuries took place. Scientist Mark Erdmann accompanied the team.

          An ROV operated by the Aquamarine Fukushima Survey team in conjunction with the divers returned in the fall of '05 to continue searching elsewhere in the area.

          On May 30, 2006, off the shore of Boul about 350km west from Manado, Sulawesi, an Indonesian coelacanth was filmed at the depth of 170m, at 830 am, with the ROV. Subsequently five more were seen. The fish were in caves at the same location as those filmed by the Fricke Dive Team in the submersible Jago back in 1999. Dr. Kasim Moosa of the Indonesian Institute for Scientific Research accompanied the survey team.

          In September and October, 2007, an expedition also funded by Japan's Aquamarine Fukushima and co-sponsored by the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Program (ACEP), The Sustainable Seas Trust, The Tanzania Fisheries Research Institute, and the Tanga Coastal Zone Conservation and Development Programme put an ROV down in the Tanga region and observed nine coelacanths over a five day period. This was the first in situ observation of the Tanzania coelacanths.


  In 2008 Aquamarine Fukushima concludes its 4th ROV expedition, this time back in Indonesia, Sulawesi vicinity. An equipment breakdown, ends the expedition early.

         During the September 2009 ROV expedition, as many as six individuals were photographed in a single cave ! (Fukusima photo below.)

          On October 6th, 2009 the same expedition succeeded in locating and filming a juvenile coelacanth- for the first time!. The fish was found in Manado Bay, North Sulawesi, Indonesia. It was measured by a laser beam from the R.O.V. to be 31.5cm. The fish was positioning itself in a small cave at 164.6 meters (about 538ft). It's features were described as slightly different from late term embryos of Latimeria chalumnae of the Comoros. The expedition leader was Masa Iwata from Fukushima Aquarium.

First Filming of Living Juvenile Coelacanth


      During the November 2010 expedition, scientists from Fukushima Aquarium in Japan, in cooperation with the Sam Ratulangi University in Manado (Indonesia) were able to locate and film 5 coelacanths (in three dives) in Indonesia. With the ROV they traced these coelacanths close to Biak Island (Papua/Indonesia), about 1800km more East than the previous dive locations around Manado (North-Sulawesi).

Later, three more were observed in the same area. (photo below)

Here are the results from the ROV investigations around Biak.

For the statistics…

11 November between 14:22 and 14:46 at a depth of 210m – 2 Coelacanths

13 November between 16:48 and 17:05 at a depth of 194.93m – 3 Coelacanths

15 November at 14:54 at a depth of 194.91m – 1 Coelacanth

One coelacanth has been seen twice, so in total 5 different ones.


      On March 11, 2011, Japan's Fukushima Aquarium was damaged by the tsunami following a massive 9.0 earthquake. Initial reports indicated that the staff was successfully evacuated to the third floor, but when power to the life support systems was cut off, as many as 200,000 resident aquarium fishes died. Some marine mammals were removed to other facilities. The impact of this event delayed the aquarium's coelacanth search program for one year.


      Following recovery from the 2011, earthquake and tsunami which affected the Fukushima Aquarium and area,  Masa Iwata  of Fukushima Acquarium was back in Indonesia for further ROV expeditions. He succeeded in filming more coelacanths in their natural habitat in '12, '13,'14, and '15. In '14 preperations were made to build a research facility and presumably holding tank in Sulawesi.





Overview Indonesian ROV coelacanth investigations (Fukushima Aquarium) and Indonesian coelacanth catches. (Courtesy: Rik Nulens)

1) April 2005 : no coelacanth sightings

2) Photographing total 7 individuals, May/June 2006, Sulawesi island Buol

3) Photographing total 3 individuals, December 2006, Sulawesi Island Buol

4) Photographing 1 individual, June 2007, Malalayang waters, Sulawesi Island Manado

5) No sightings in December 2008, Sulawesi Island north section, ROV breakdown

6) Photographing 1 individual, 14 September 2009, Talise Island, (North) Sulawesi Island

7) Photographing 6 individuals, 24 September 2009, Talise Island, (North) Sulawesi Island

8) Photographing 1 juvenile individual, 6 October 2009, Manado Bay, North Sulawesi

9) 2010  November 2010 An expedition of scientists from Fukushima Aquarium in Japan, in cooperation with the Sam Ratulangi University in Manado (Indonesia) were able to locate and film 5 coelacanths (in three dives) in Indonesia. With the ROV they traced these coelacanths close to Biak Island (Papua/Indonesia), about 1800km more East than the previous dive locations around Manado (North-Sulawesi).

10) 2012 May-June. An expedition from Fukushima Aquarium, Japan, led by Masa Iwata, again films coelacanths with an ROV in the Indonesian search area near Manado, Sulawesi

11) 2013 June. A new ROV expedition from Aquamarine Fukishima succeeds in filmming one coelacanth in the Manado Bay region- Sulawesi, Indonesia.

12)  2014 August. Aquamarine Fukishima prepares to build a coelacanth research facility in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

13) 2015 June. Another ROV expedition from Aquamarine Fukishima films 2 coelacanths in Lolak, North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Fukishima ROV expeditions suspended after 2015, however a shore based research facility was established in Sulawesi. 

Overview captures Indonesian coelacanths:
1) 18 September 1997, (CCC174), seen by Arnaz & Mark Erdmann-Mehta on a fish market in
Manado Capture site Manado Tua, Kampung Negeri, length ca 130cm
2) 30 July 1998, (CCC175), capture site Manado Papindan village, length ca 124cm, female
3) 19 May 2007, (CCC215), capture site Malalayang, near Bunaken National Marine Park,
length 131cm, female, 25 small eggs (3cm)
4) 25 November 2008, (CCC225), capture site North of Talise Island, Minahasa Utara, North
Sulawesi, length110cm
5) 16 September 2009, (CCC254), capture site Gangga waters in North Sulawesi Province, off
Sulawesi Island, length 114cm

Note: more catches have taken place since 2009. See page on Indonesian coelacanths, and Coelacanth news. 

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