Coelacanth News!


      From Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean Marine and Coastal news round-up in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) Region

       Monday, 21 September, 2015 Environment news Africa's earliest known coelacanth found in Eastern Cape, South Africa Various specimens of Africa's earliest coelacanth have been found in a 360 million year-old fossil estuary near Grahamstown, in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Dr Robert Gess, who analysed the specimens of the new fossil species Serenichthys kowiensis while completing his PhD at Wits University, said: "It is the earliest record we have of the breeding behaviour of coelacanths. Estuaries are today used by fish in exactly the same way." "This glimpse into the early life history of ancient coelacanths raises further questions about the life history of the modern coelacanth, Latimeria, which is known to bear live young, but whether they, too, are clustered in nurseries remains unknown," explains Professor Michael Coates of the University of Chicago, who has helped describe the new species. Read More



      The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present - but without leaving any fossil remains younger than that time. Now, some much older coelacanth remains have been uncovered in a fossil deposit near Bristol by a student at the University of Bristol.       

      While working last summer in Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, Harry Allard, a recent graduate from the University of Exeter, found remains of coelacanth fishes, ranging in size from juveniles to adults, in a section of Late Triassic rocks, dated at about 210 million years old, at Manor Farm, Aust, close to the first Severn crossing. He discovered the new fossils in a large collection of fish and reptile teeth and bones, representing animals that lived in the shallow seas, and on the neighbouring landmass at that time when Bristol teemed with dinosaurs, and the landscape consisted of numerous tropical islands.      

     Harry said: "These fossils provide an amazing glimpse of an ecosystem which is so different from the contemporary landscape of south west England. It has been fascinating to look at the changing composition of that long-lost ecosystem."

        The Manor Farm site was created 15 years ago when the second Severn crossing was under construction and contractors excavated there to obtain road-building materials. After the site was made safe, a section was dug out so geologists, and the public, could visit and learn about the local geology. One of the fossil collectors at the time, the late Mike Curtis of Gloucester, collected batches of sediment, and worked through the material to extract nearly 20,000 teeth and bones.  

   "Mike Curtis kept such excellent records that Harry was able to separate the collections into findings from five separate bone beds, each perhaps separated by a few hundred thousand years," said Professor Michael Benton, supervisor of the project. "This provides unique insight into a turbulent time, when seas flooded across the landscape, submerging much of Europe. Dry land became shallow seas almost overnight, and the energy of the floods churned up the soil and rock below and deposited bone beds in some places."   

      Tracking upwards through the five bone beds, Harry was able to show how the fish faunas changed through time, from being dominated by small sharks at first, and then switching to more thick-scaled bony fishes higher up.    

      "The coelacanths were smaller than the living coelacanth Latimeria," said Chris Duffin, a fossil fish expert who was involved in the work, "but these fishes were quite diverse in the Triassic, and only dwindled in importance later. They are most unusual, having gills and lungs, and moving both by paddling with their gills, and stilt-walking along the seabed as well."

      More information:DOI: 10.1016/j.pgeola.2015.09.002 'Microvertebrates from the classic Rhaetian bone beds of Manor Farm Quarry, near Aust (Bristol, UK)' by Harry Allard, Simon Carpenter, Chris Duffin, and Michael Benton in Proceedings of the Geologists' Association.

               Provided by: University of Bristol (Courtesy of Amb Mahmoud Aboud)


Rik Nulen's Coelacanth News
 Brief- '14

     1) The tragic loss of Peter Timm, a name synonymous with coelacanths and conservation has shaken the diving, scientific and conservation community in South Africa and the world on June 18, 2014.

     Peter (51) and his buddy Adele Steegen (45) died in a diving accident while helping find research equipment that was lost during a research cruise in 58m depth of water off Umkomaas near Aliwal Shoal. The equipment, owned by the Oceanographic Research Institute, was being used to sample biodiversity on the seafloor, as part of a multi-institutional collaborative conservation research programme led by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Peter was well known with his co-discovery of the South-African Coelacanths in Sodwana Bay in October 2000. Adele was the first SA women - and second women ever - who was able to share some ‘great moments’ with a Coelacanth, named ‘Grant’, on March 5, 2014 at a depth of 116 metres. Peter and Adele were also team members of the great international coelacanth dive expedition held last year.

     They are gone now from this world - forever - but never to be forgotten. Coelacanths will always help us to remember their names!

     2) A fourth overview of changes/additions to the Smithiana publication ‘An updated inventory of all specimens of the coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae spp.’ is also with this mail.

     3) A coelacanth has been caught at Gangga Island, North Sulawesi (Indonesia) early November 2014. It is the seventh specimen caught in Indonesia. No further catches were recorded in the Comoros, Tanzania or Madagascar as far as I know.

     4) Same as last year, many articles were published on genetic research on coelacanths. There were even several magazine editions specially dedicated on coelacanth research like the Japanese magazine Iden Genetics (120pp) and the Journal of Experimental Zoology - Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution (135pp), both editions with many specific articles. See the Bibliography for details.

     5) A new translation of Samantha Weinberg’s book ‘A Fish Caught in Time’ (1999) was published in August 2014. Now it is the translation in the Dutch language. Beside the original English Edition (UK & US) one can find and buy now Samantha’s book in German, Swedish, Japanese, Chinese and Dutch language.

     6) As mentioned last year, there was a great scientific expedition in South Africa. The French TV station Arte France TV in cooperation with Gill Kebaili and diver Laurent Ballesta now presented their video “GOMBESSA”. There exists a long (90 minutes) and a short version (60 minutes) of this video.

     7) Director Yoshitaka Abe and Coelacanth expert Masamitsu (Masa) Iwata from the Japanese Aquarium “Aquamarine Fukushima” also presented their Coelacanth book in 2014 with the title: “Coelacanth no Nazo - Rikujyoo Seibutso no Idensha metsu Sakana”. Only available in Japanese.

     8) The French “Monnaie de Paris“ brought two new coins on the market in the series “Marine History”. The coins of 10 Euro (silver edition) and 50 Euro (silver and gold edition) are depicting the nuclear submarine “Le Redoutable” with a coelacanth beside.



     With a fishface only a mother could love, a coelacanth fronts the cover of an American Scientist article on arrested evolution.


November-December 2014 Volume 102, Number 6

     The discovery of a living species of coelacanth, a lobe-finned fish recognized as an important transition in vertebrate evolution, was a surprising and exciting find in 1938, because the fish was already widely recognized in the fossil record. Hailed as a living fossil, even though there has never been any fossil find of the two extant species of coelacanth, it is native to waters around Indonesia and in the Indian Ocean. Although fossil and extant coelacanths look strikingly similar, they do not demonstrate an absence of evolution. In “The Evolutionary Truth About Living Fossils” (pages 434–443), Alexander J. Werth and William A. Shear relate the unseen evolution of living fossils and discuss the definition and usefulness of this term, first coined by Charles Darwin. The image on the cover shows a face-to-face encounter between a coelacanth off the coast of South Africa and the renowned diver and naturalist Laurent Ballesta. (Photograph by Laurent Ballesta.)

Reading the article requires a subscription:

courtesy Rik Nulens


Co-discoverer of South African Coelacanths dies in diving accident.

     June, 2014. In a sad development, Peter Timm and a diving companion, Adele Stegen, lost their lives in a freak diving accident at Umkomaas, SA, where they were under contract to recover scientific equipment lost by a research vessel. Both were considered among the best technical divers in South Africa. Timm was one of the discoverers of the South African coelacanths in 2000. Stegen was the first South African woman to see coelacanths in their natural habitat. See article on the South African discovery.



75th Anniversary of Coelacanth Discovery Celebrated

     Grhamstown, South Africa: An international group gathered at SAIAB/ACEP (formerly, The J.L.B. Smith Institute,) to celebrate the December 1938 discovery of the coelacanth at East London- called, at the time, "the biological discovery of the century." One participant compared its discovery to the first human heart transplant. See discovery on this site for the original story, and SAIAB info for event news. (courtesy Rik Nulens)

Coelacanth DNA Sequenced!

Credit for four legged ancestor still goes to lungfish.

     In an April 17th, 2013, article in Nature, the authors (Chris Amemiya, a biologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, and Kerstin Lindblad-Toh, a comparative genomicist at Uppsala University in Sweden) who have worked on coelacanth DNA sequencing of the African coelacanths, Latimeria chalumnae, claim that the coelacanth's genes evolved more slowly than those of other studied fishes and vertebrates , including shark's, perhaps because of lack of predation and a stable environment. The research appears to add some validation to explanations that have already been speculated. Unfortunately for "Coelie" fans, they find the lungfish still seems the more likely vertebrate ancestor.

For a longer synopsis see:

Project Gombessa

     A French Dive group, led by Laurent Ballesta, the same team that did the recent photos and film footage used by National Geographic, completed a new series of dives during a 33 day expedition at the Sodwana, South Africa, coelacanth habitat. They concluded by attaching a GPS to a coelacanth for tracking. The expedition was financed by Swiss watchmaker Blancpain. Some of the pictures and video appear at an exhibit sponsored by the company at the United Nations in NYC.

More info and a blog at:

Living Fossil EATs Junk Food!

     On the 24th of May, 2012, an Indonesian/Japanese team of researchers reportedly "felt very sad" when they discovered plastic garbage in a coelacanth specimen’s stomach. The specimen had been caught, July, 2011, in Indonesian waters. The fish showed a preference for Lay's Classic Potato Chips! The news was aired by the Manado Tribune on May 29, 2012.



(Courtesy, Rik Nulens)

     Triton Dive Charters found several coelacanths during their Sodwana Coelacanth Expedition, March 2012. Coelacanths were found on 3 occasions (5 mixed gas dives were undertaken). On March 6, Peter Timm and his team encountered ‘Noah’, the 14th coelacanth, in Jesser canyon. Later, more coelacanths were seen and filmed/photographed. (Courtesy: Rik Nulens)

     During these dives, Eve Marshall, became the first woman to dive deeper than 100 m, using SCUBA, to see this special fish in its natural environment. (Courtesy Kerry Sink) Editor's note: Deep mixed gas diving is extremely dangerous, with long decompression times, and has involved multiple fatalities and near fatalities in search of the coelacanth. Don't try this at home! -JH

     National Geographic Channel ran a program centered on the Sodwana coelacanths, "Preserving the Specimen." For background on the Sodwana coelacanths click here.

Japanese scientists claim Tanga coelacanths genetically distinct from Comoran cousins.

      ( Nov. 10, 2011 )   Researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology and other entities said the newly found breeding group of Tanga coelacanths linked to the site, has existed for more than 200,000 years without genetic contact with other groups.

     The team published the results in an online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.

     Tokyo Institute of Technology Prof. Norihiro Okada and his colleagues analyzed genes of more than 20 coelacanths caught off Tanga, northern Tanzania, and nearby sites. The areas are nearly 1,000 kilometers north-northwest of the Comoros Islands.

     The results showed the fish belong to a population genetically distinct from that off Comoros Islands.

     The two groups seem to have separated 200,000 to 2 million years ago, the researchers said.

     Considering the number of fish caught, the researchers assume the newly discovered population may comprise hundreds of coelacanths near the site.

     This finding conflicts with the claims of German scientists that the Sodwana, South African coelacanths are genetically the same as the Comoran species. (See articles linked from the Recent History page of

  Coelacanth Research Center / Shrine

      One small step for a fish! The Coelacanth Rescue Mission (CRM), funded by contributors to this web site via Coelashop purchases, initiated financing for a coelacanth research center (CoelaCenter) at Itsoundzou, a fishing village on Grand Comoro island in the Indian Ocean. The center is within several hundred feet of where the largest and most studied colony of coelacanths reside by day in their submarine caves. It is being built and will be operated by APG, a local group supporting coelacanth conservation. The center will be used to increase conservation awareness locally, and conduct ecological research. It will also be a museum dedicated to the history of the coelacanth. Groundbreaking began in April '04. By winter '08, thanks entirely to "coelashoppers" walls were completed for the first floor. In Feb. '08, the Comoros office of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Global Environment Facility/ Small Grants Programme, agreed to finance the next phase of the Center's completion, an exciting giant leap for the center and the people of Itsoundzou.. (Pictures courtesy Said Ahamada, Mahmoud Aboud and Jerome Hamlin) Further contributions welcome via the Coelashop.   


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The Comorian Vice President speaks at the regional opening of the

Coelacanth Center, March 26, 2011

New feature: Take a detour to the "Lands of the Fish." The coelacanth lives off some of the most exotic locations on the planet. The largest observed population lives off of the Comoro Islands. Click here for a gallery of images from the Comoros. Return via back arrow or homepage.
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