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Since its discovery by Western science in 1938 , numerous expeditions
have set out to find, catch, capture, obtain specimens, photograph,
film, or observe and preserve the coelacanth. This list is compiled
from various sources and includes unintentional coelacanth
catches and discoveries.
- 1938. December. Captian Hendrik Gossen trawls a "strange" fish near East London, South Africa. Local Muesum curator, Marjorie Courtnay-Latimer preserves it, and scientist JLB Smith identifies it as a type of living coelacanth from the age of dinosaurs, startling both the World's public and its scientific community.From 1938 until the discovery of the "second" coelacanth
in 1952 in the Comoro islands, JLB Smith conducted several expeditions
from South Africa up the coast of East Africa cataloging reef
fishes, while searching for coelacanths. Smith believed, apparently
correctly, that the coelacanth because of its shape and coloration
was a deep reef fish, not a fish of the true ocean depths.
- During this time a number of Oceanographic Institutions used
research vessels to search the ocean depths- unsuccessfully-
for signs of the coelacanth, promoting the idea still in the
popular mythology, that coelacanths are (benthic) inhabitants
of the deep seas.
- In 1952, Eric Hunt plastered the Comoro Islands, one of his
regular trading stops, with JLB Smith's coelacanth reward posters,
leading locals to realize that coelacanths were one and the same
with their "Gombessa," several of which are caught
- 1952: Smith is loaned a DC3 "Dakota" by the government
of South Africa to fly him to the Comoros to collect the "2nd"
coelacanth. A subsequent expedition to the Comoros, planned by
Smith to research and possibly collect a live coelacanth for
an aquarium fails to materialize when funding collapses. The
French government which controls the Comoros, then declares the
fish off limits to non nationals. Local officials record catches,
and send specimens to Drs. Jacques Millot and Jean Anthony in
France who supervise coelacanth research for the next decade.
Pickled coelacanth specimens are catalogued in Paris and distributed
to museums internationally.
- 1955: Explorer Quentin Keynes visits the Comoros with Eric
Hunt and interviews all those involved with the "discovery"
of the "2nd" coelacanth.
- 195?: Cousteau visits the Comoros on the first of several
unsuccessful attempts by the Cousteau team to film coelacanths.
They can't locate them and no local catches occur during the
- 1964: Stanford University's Hopkins Marine Center in cooperation
with the National Science Foundation launched the "Marine Physiological
Expedition to Madagascar and Iles Comores." The expedition tried unsuccessfully
to retrieve a live coelacanth in the waters around the Comoran island of
Anjouan and return it to the US for examination.
- 1966: A French photojournalist, Jacques Stevens, claims to
have filmed and photographed a coelacanth in its natural habitat,
but scientists dispute the claims, asserting that the fish was
caught by a local fisherman, then filmed in shallow water. The
same year, the first frozen coelacanth makes its way to the U.S.
- 1968: A visit to the Comoros by Cousteau's Calypso fails
to locate the fish for filming.
- 1972: A joint Royal Society French/British/American expedition
visits the Comoros and fishes unsuccessfully for coelacanths.
They do however obtain specimens on hand, and film a native caught
coelacanth dying in a hastily established tank.
- 1972: The Vancouver Aquarium makes an unsuccessful bid to
capture a live coelacanth. Team members return with a purchased
- 1975-76: Steinhart Aquarium of San Francisco concludes a
series of expeditions to capture a live coelacanth. They are
unsuccessful, but an important monograph on the coelacanth is
published by the California Academy of Sciences as a result of
- 1979: Peter Scoones, a photographer/cinematographer for David
Attenborough's "Life on Earth" BBC series films and
photographs a coelacanth caught by a local fisherman as it dies
in the shallows.
- Early 1980's: A group called the Japanese Scientific Expedition
of the Coelacanth, (JASEC), under the direction of Kimihei Shinonoi,
begins visiting the Comoros. They purchase study specimens and
establish economic links between the Comoros and Japan. Several
papers result.Visits continue sporadically through the 80's,
and into the '90's.
- 1981 Belgian Zoological Expeditions visit the Comoros and
prepare a report on the coelacanth.
- 1986: July. French diver Jean Louis Geraud, living in the Comoros,
films a coelacanth which had been caught and then released at
about 20 metres.
- 1986: Nov-Dec. The first Explorers Club / New York Aquarium
team led by Jerome Hamlin (author of this website) visits the
Comoros to ascertain the viability of capturing a coelacanth
specimen for display/research.. Several frozen specimens are
acquired which form the basis of a new round of coelacanth research
in North America, including CAT scans and DNA analysis.
- 1986-1987: Hans Fricke and Karen Hissman of the Max-Planck
Institute in Seewiesen, Germany, and Raphael Plante visit the
Comoros with the submersible "Geo". After a disappointing
series of pilot dives, the sub's operator, Jurgen Schauer, locates
and films/photographs a coelacanth in its natural habitat at
a depth of 180 metres. The project continues, capturing the natural
behavior of healthy coelacanths on film for the first time.
- 1986-1987: The first of several research visits is made by
groups from the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown,
South Africa. Participants include Michael Bruton, Eugene Balon,
and Robin Stobbs. An important coelacanth monograph based on
these visits and other research of the 1980's results.
- 1987-89: Multiple visits by the Explorers Club project fail
to catch a coelacanth and the leader concludes that coelacanths
can not be targeted by hook and line fishing techniques. Recompression
efforts, a corollary of the Explorers Club project, succeed in
returning four specimens caught by locals to depths of 90-150ft
in cages. The longest survival period is one week.
- 1989: The Fricke team returns with the deeper diving submersible,
"Jago" and discovers caves which are inhabited by coelacanths
during the day. Groups of the fish are filmed in the caves, and
the first sonic tagging efforts are attempted.
- 1989: Toba Aquarium of Japan launches a multi-million dollar
effort to capture two live coelacanths for display from a research
vessel equipped with an R.O.V., specially designed traps, and
fishermen from Japan and the Phillipines. The capture effort is unsuccessful, but the R.O.V. captures some grainy images of the fish.
- 1990: The Explorers Club project goes into passive mode with
a tank on hand in the Comoros to resuscitate coelacanths which
would otherwise die on capture. Two attempts are made. One fish
is DOA. The other dies en route to the tank.
- 1990: Fricke and the "Jago" dive off the Chalumna
river near East London, South Africa to see if the "first"
coelacanth might have been part of a local population. No coelacanths
are observed and the bottom structure is not typical of coelacanth
- 1991: Fricke and the Jago team succeed in sonic tagging coelacanths.
One of the fish descends to 700 meters, twice the previously
observed depth. The Fricke team also catalogues individuals by
means of their white flecks and initiates DNA studies and DNA
banking in Europe.
- 1991: August 11, a pregnant female coelacanth is trawled
off the coast of Mozambique, the first recorded trawling of a
coelacanth since 1938. The female contains 26 embryos, twenty
one more than the previously estimated number of young thought
to be produced at one time.
- 1994: The Explorers Club project installs a permanent tank
facility in the Comoros to try to save coelacanths which are
being caught (accidentally) and killed. The project is allied
with the local scientific institution, C.N.D.R.S. and staffed
by Comorians. In 1995, a coelacanth lives for ten hours in the
tank, after surviving fifteen hours on the ocean surface. In
1997, the tank is dismantled by Comorians.
- 1994: The Fricke team returns to survey the cave sites, continue
sonic tagging and attempt population counts. Numbers are claimed
to be down.
- 1995: The Fricke team returns again for a broader population
count. Plans are laid for a permanent underwater camera installation
at one of the caves, and a nature center. A local environmental
group, called Ulanga, begins cooperating with the Fricke and
Explorers Club Project groups -which are also in contact.
- 1995-7: Two coelacanths are trawled off of Madagascar raising
new questions about the fish's habitat range or the number that
are captured from the Comoros by ocean currents. Two more are netted in 2001 and others follow in later years. In 2001 a coelacanth is accidentally netted off Kenya, and from 2003 numerous coelacanths are accidentally caught by fishermen off Tanzania.
- 1998: Deep Release Kits are deployed in the Comoros by the
Coelacanth Rescue Mission to reduce local coelacanth fatalities.
- 1997-1998: Dr. Mark Erdmann and Kasim Moosa identify a coelacanth
population living off of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. DNA studies
confirm a new species: Latimeria menadoensis.
- 1999: Dr.Raphael Plante and several associates visit the Comoros
to determine the feasibility of establishing a coelacanth protection
Marine Park off southwestern Grand Comoro island, site of much of the
- 1999: More than 400 deep release devices are deployed in the Comoros
thanks to dinofish.com contributors and staff.
- 1999: During November and December, the Fricke dive group searches for the coelacanth population
off of North Sulawesi, Indonesia, using the submersible Jago. Two coelacanths
are filmmed in a cave in an environment unlike the Comoran habitat. The
group concludes that they have not found a base population and that such
a population- possibly ancestral to both the Comoran and Indonesian coelacanths-
has yet to be discovered.
- 2000: Three expeditions to the Comoros are conducted by Jerome Hamlin of the Coelacanth Rescue Mission, to distribute deep release kits, t shirts, and to set up a coelacanth recovery pool. The first distribution of deep release kits on the island of Anjouan begins a coelacanth conservation program there.
- 2000: On October 23, the first International Coelacanth Mini Symposium is held on the island of Bali, Indonesia. Under the direction of Mark Erdmann and James Albert, a protocol is drawn up for future coelacanth research and conservation.
- 2000: In November, the Jago Dive Team visits the Comoro Islands with the submersible Jago to conduct a new population survey of coelacanths off of Grand Comoro Island. The researchers report that coelacanth numbers are back up to 1994 levels but that there are fewer habitat caves along the coast than initially supposed leaving the total population there in the low hundreds (200-300).
- 2000: In October and November, Pieter Venter and SA Coelacanth Expedition 2000 discover at least three living coelacanths along submarine ledges off of Sodwana, South Africa. If the fish are found to have distinctive DNA they would represent a new population. The group dived using a mixture of gasses and found the fish at a relatively shallow 350ft. One diver died in the effort.
- 2001: In May, despite interference from park bureacrats, Pieter Venter's South African dive team returns to Sodwana. Additional coelacanths were filmmed and a couple were found to be matches from the previous dives.
- 2002: In March-April, the Jago Submersible and Fricke Dive Team descend into the depths off Sodwana and observed 15 coelacanths, one pregnant. Again some were repeats indicating likely residency. Tissue samples were taken using a dart probe. The South African coelacanth programme is under the direction of Dr. Tony Ribbink.
- 2002: In December, South African Coelcanth researcher Robin Stobbs, and the leader of the South African Genome project : Professor Rosemary Dorrington of Rhodes University, visit the Comoro Islands to distribute DNA collection kits and establish local government cooperation. The project requires a blood sample from a living coelacanth- caught accidentally.bilogical materials were returned to South Africa for analysis in 2003.
- 2003: In April-May, the Jago Submersible and Fricke Dive Team descend into the depths off Sodwana, South Africa, again and observed 18 coelacanths. Again some were repeats indicating likely residency. Scale samples were taken using a dart probe- to establish a cell line, and sonic tagging was employed to track movements.
- 2004: In April-May, the Jago Submersible again descended into the depths off Sodwana, South Africa. New coelacanths were observed, 3 at considerable distance from the earlier groups, bring the total number of observed South African coelacanths to 25. This would be the last South Africa dives made by the Jago. Genetic analysis showed the South African coelacanths to be the same species as the Comoran coelacanths.
- 2005 April/May/June. Under the direction of Dr. Yoshitaki Abe, Forrest Young's Dynasty Marine Associates mixed gas divers plunge off the volcanoes of Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia in tandem with an ROV from Japan's Aquamarine Fukushima Aquarium, and scientist Mark Erdmann in search of coelacanths. None are observed.
- 2005 In May, a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) under the direction of Dr. Kerry Sink, replaced the submersible, Jago, in this year's investigation of the South African coelacanths. Eight were sighted at 110m on one dive, and one on a dive the day before. Some were the same individuals identified by Jago and some were new. The "Falcon" ROV was said to be less invasive than the sub, but it's data aquisition capabilities seemed more limited.
- 2006 End of May, early June. The ROV from Aquamarine Fukushima Aquarium returns to Indonesia. On May 30, off the shore of Boul, about 350km west from Manado, Sulawesi, an Indonesian coelacanth was filmed by the ROV at a depth of 170m about 8:30 a.m. Subsequently five more were seen. The fish were in caves at the same location as those filmed by the Fricke Dive Team in 1999. Dr, Kasim Moosa of the Indonesian Institute for Scientific Research accompanied the survey team.
- 2006 May. In an expedition organized by the Kairos Company and the University of Tanzania, the dive ship "The Kairos" conducts mixed gas dives off of Kigome, Tanzania in search of coelacanths. The divers reached 124 meters (406ft.). They film the environment, but no coelacanths are seen.
- 2006 In July, the private yacht, Octopus, makes a brief visit to the Comoros, and attempts to film coelacanths with an advanced R.O.V. equipped with a high definition camera. Bad weather hampers the effort and none of the fish are observed.
- 2007 August/September Jerome Hamlin visits the Solomon Islands in search of coelacanths. Circumstantial evidence indicates they are there!
- 2007 September/October An ROV expedition led by Japanese aquarium, Aquamarine Fukushima, observes nine coelacanths off the coast of Tanzania, the first Tanzanian coelacanths to be seen in situ!
- 2008 February: Jerome Hamlin visits the Comoros and Tanga, Tanzania to monitor the coelacanth situation. There are now almost no reported catches in the Comoros. In Tanga, there is no general awareness of the fish. November: The Jago submersible dive group concludes a new survey of Comorian coelacanths and finds the population stable at about 500. Bad weather prevents dives at Tanzania. Aquamarine Fukushima concludes its 4th ROV expediton, this time back in Indonesia, Sulawesi vicinity.
- 2009 May 20 South African Peter Timms and three French technical divers from Andromede Oceanology, photograph two apparently "new" coelacanths at Jesser Canyon, Sodwana, South Africa.
- 2009 Oct-November. Hans Fricke, using a submersible from the yacht, Octopus, aquires HD footage of the Comorian coelacanths. An ROV expediton to Indonesia, from Japan's Aquamarine Fukushima, obtains the first video footage of a living juvenle coelacanth.
- 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).