Here's a summary of the latest happenings in the
world of coelacanth science:
In May 2013 scientist divers at Sodwana
Bay, South Africa attached an egg sized tracking device to a living coelacanth residing in a deep-water canyon. The satellite
tag recorded data about the coelacanth's movements, including water temperature, depth, pressure and light intensity. It was
designed to eventually fall off and float to the surface. The device was recovered on February 9, 2014 after making its way
to the ocean surface. Approximately thirty-two coelacanths inhabit the Sodwana Bay section of iSimangaliso Wetland Park. The
tracking may shed new light on their behaviors. The data is now being studied by scientists.
genome of the African coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae was worked out in 2013 by an international team of scientists. Coelacanths have 48 chromosomes in their body cells. They also
have about 2.86 billion base pairs in their DNA and about 29,000 genes based on their RNA copies of their genes. Coelacanths show few structural differences from their fossils and their genes are among the slowest in showing
new mutations. This likely is a reflection of their protected environment and lack of predators.
However, coelacanths have been accruing DNA changes, albeit very slowly. Analysis of the coelacanth genome demonstrates
that they are not the closest living fish relative to tetrapods. That designation belongs to the lungfish.
The journal Nature Communications reports in April 2012 the finding of the earliest coelacanth skull.
A team from the Chinese Academy of Sciences made the discovery in the Yunnan province of China. Incredibly, this coelacanth swam
in the seas some 409 million years ago. This is especially significant as it pushes back the age of the coelacanth by
some seventeen million years and into the Early Devonian era. They note that the new form anatomically resembles modern
coelacanths. This latest fossil find was named E. yunnanensis.
inauguration of the new Coelacanth Center in Moroni, Comoros was held March 31, 2011 and was said to be an extraordinary success.
It was attended by the Vice President of the Union of the Comoros, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Minister of Defense,
the Perfect and numerous other dignitaries. Youthful volunteers and the men and women of the village contributed to
the terrific success of the day. Congratulations to all who have worked very hard to make this important tool in coelacanth
conservation a reality.
In November 2010, scientists from
Aquamarine Fukushima in Iwaki, Japan filmed five coelacanths using a remotely operated vehicle in the waters off Biak, Papau,
Indonesia. This is about one thousand miles east of previously known Indonesian coelacanths at Manado, North Sulawesi. The
strong desire of Japanese aquariums to display a living coelacanth has been no secret. It is something that has never
been done before and something that will likely lead to more coelacanth mortality.
Accidental catches continue to be devastating
to the coelacanth population. In September 2010, a female coelacanth pregnant with 17-19 pups was caught off Tanzania.
This is in addition to another female with 23 pups caught in the vicinity in July 2009. As has been repeatedly
demonstrated, accidental catches always end in certain death for the coelacanth.
The finishing touches are currently being completed on
the new Comoros Coelacanth Center at Itsoundzou, Grande Comore. A grand opening is planned for March 2010.
The Comorian people should
be congratulated for their fine
efforts on behalf of their native
2009 brought an announcement that marine scientists from Aquamarine Fukushima in Iwaki, Japan filmed a living juvenile coelacanth
at Manado Bay off Sulawesi, Indonesia. The 12.6 inch specimen was filmed by remote camera at a depth of 528 feet (161 meters).
The behaviors and habits of coelacanth young have long been shrouded in mystery.
The Dakota aircraft which ferried JLB
Smith to Pamanzi in the Comoros Islands in December 1952 sits today (August 2009) at Ysterplaat Air Force Base in Cape
Town, South Africa. Dakota 6832, squadron code K-OD, retrieved the coelacanth caught by a Comoran fisherman
and secured for Smith on the trading schooner of Captain Eric Hunt. The Dakota is a
DC3, short for Douglas Commercial Three, or C-47 when it’s the beefed-up military model, as is Dakota 6832.
After a long career with the South African Air Force, the historic aircraft remains in Cape Town where a dedicated
group of cash strapped enthusiasts hope to restore her to flight condition. Learn more about the famed Coelacanth
A proposed harbor project in Tanzania may put a population
of coelacanth at risk. The Tanzania Ports Authority recommends building a deep-water harbor in Mwambani Bay near the Kenyan
border to accommodate large container ships. Increased ship traffic, sedimentation, and other ecological changes could wipe
out the local coelacanth population, according to an assessment by the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum, a local environmental
group. Ultimately, the Mwambani Bay port project may prove unnecessary. The nearby port at Tanga Bay is only
half utilized and upgrades to this existing port would be more economically feasible than new construction at Mwambani
Bay. Conservation experts are meeting in late February 2009 in Tanga to discuss options for a Marine Protected Area for
coelacanths, which the Tanzanian government promised to create in 2006. Since September 2003, more than fifty coelacanths
have been caught along the coast of Tanzania. This high rate of coelacanth mortality has alarmed both national and international
In May 2008, Said Ahamada sends exciting news from the
Comoros Islands. The Global Environment Facility Small Grant Program will generously provide $45,000 USD in funding
to allow the Association for the Preservation of the Coelacanth (APG) to finish construction of the coelacanth
center in the village of Itsoundzou, Grande Comore and to run the center for a year. For further information visit
Another nation has been added to the coelacanth club.
As of July 2007, several coelacanths have been netted off the coast of Tanzania. This is in addition to previous
discoveries off the coasts of South Africa, Comoros, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, and Mozambique. This is further confirmation
that small populations of the elusive coelacanth exist elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Trade in the coelacanth remains
banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, world famous for her role in the
finding of the first coelacanth, died May 17, 2004 in East London, South Africa at the age of 97. Miss Courtenay-Latimer will
forever be remembered because of the prehistoric living fossil fish, which was named Latimeria chalumnae in her honor. As
the first curator of the East London Museum, she recognized the significance of the unusual fish brought to the East London
docks in 1938 by Captain Hendrik Goosen of the trawler Nerine.
May 2004, the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme announced the results of the latest three week study in the Greater St.
Lucia Wetland Park. Several new coelacanths found in Chaka's Canyon bring the number of known coelacanths in South African
waters to 25. (Coelacanths have unique patterns of white spots, making it possible to distinguish one from another.) Chaka's
Canyon is 50 kilometers south of Jesser and Wright Canyons, where South Africa's known population of the 'fossil fish' was
initially discovered. Congratulations once again to Germany's Team Fricke and their JAGO submersible. Their fine work contributes
greatly to helping establish the distribution of coelacanths in the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park.
The JAGO submersible is once again ready to explore coelacanths along the South African coast. This latest expedition
is scheduled for April 15, 2003 at Richards Bay. JAGO pilot Jürgen Schauer, along with team member Karen Hissmann, will continue
their highly successful coelacanth scale sampling, in addition to tracking studies.
Chalk up another grand success for Germany's Group Fricke. In
March/April 2002, their JAGO submersible explored the waters of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park at Sodwana Bay, South Africa.
The expedition was under the auspices of the South African Coelacanth Conservation and Genome Resource Program. The support
vessel was the FRS Algoa. Diving commenced on March 31st. For a first time in Group Fricke's history, a coelacanth was sighted
on their very first dive. Despite frequently rough seas, a number of coelacanths were documented, including apparently pregnant
females. As many as seven coelacanths were viewed together in a single cave. Ten or eleven individual specimens were documented
in all. Observations by the team seem to indicate an apparently small but healthy population present mainly in Jesser Canyon.
Scales were successfully collected by JAGO pilot Jürgen Schauer for continuing genetic research.
The Comoros Islands based Association pour la Preservation du Gombessa has developed a new Web site: Welcome
to all! The objective of the APG is to contribute to the sustainable development of the Comoros Islands through the
preservation of the coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, and its coastal and marine environment. Please feel free to explore our
Web site and learn more about our treasured Gombessa, the coelacanth, and it's home in the Comoros Islands.
Check it out
exciting thing about science is when unexpected surprises suddenly decimate accepted theories. Such is the case today regarding
coelacanth distribution. Coelacanths are appearing where least expected. In April 2001, the crew of the MV Venture netted
a 1.7 meter female coelacanth at Malindi, Kenya. The fish was then brought to Mombasa. This is the first confirmed find north
of the Comoros Islands, and is not easily explained by ocean currents. The fish will be fixed with formalin and displayed
at the Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. Tissue samples are currently being analyzed by Group Fricke in Germany, and others.
A team of divers led by Pieter Venter returned to Sodwana and
began diving for coelacanths in May 2001. Controversy erupted when government authorities forbid diving for the coelacanths
due to concerns for the fish. Under the guise of "practice dives," the team continued diving and "accidentally" came across
a total of three different individuals, which were filmed. The films were then broadcast on a pay-for-view site on the Internet.
Soon after, all diving by the team was ordered suspended. Hopefully, these unfortunate developments will not affect future
scientific studies of the South African population. One questionable claim made by the Venter team suggested that coelacanth
observations by submersible were far more disruptive than those by divers. Years of coelacanth research in the Comores disputes
the claim that a submersible is disruptive. The coelacanths generally treat it's presence with indifference.
At least four coelacanth's have
now been caught off the coast of Madagascar. The latest was accidentally snagged in a gill net in March 2001. While these
individuals could be strays from the Comoros Islands, in all likelihood they are suggestive that small fragile groups of coelacanths
potentially exist at other sites in the Indian, and perhaps even Pacific Oceans. It is unlikely that any of these newly discovered
coelacanth populations will prove to be sizeable.
Native names for the
coelacanths are nearly as interesting as the fish itself. The latest is 'Fiandolo', or "ghost fish." A very nice addition
to the original Gombessa (Comores) and Raja laut (Indonesia), the "king of the sea".
Group Fricke's 2000 Coelacanth Expedition to the Comores was a success. This
was their first study of the original coelacanth population, Latimeria chalumnae, since 1995. Their research platform for
the trip was the MV Indian Ocean Explorer, which was specially modified to accommodate the JAGO submersible. Their primary
efforts were concentrated off the southwest coast of Grand Comore. The JAGO was utilized for population monitoring, which
was followed by the collection of scales for DNA research. (Collecting scale samples does not harm the fish.) Individual fish
counts and habitat studies seem to confirm an extremely small but apparently stable population.
Group Fricke's successes were eclipsed by breaking news that a new group of coelacanths have been discovered off the coast
of South Africa. This latest discovery, near Sodawana, marks the first time that a diver outside of a submersible has observed
a coelacanth living in it's natural habitat. Coelacanths were viewed at depths of 320-350 feet, the shallowest level they
have ever been observed. The truly amazing part of this discovery is that this particular area has been studied by scientists
for years, and is also a favored spot of recreational divers. Of course, most recreational divers limit their dives to 125
feet or less. Unfortunately, one member of the dive team died after surfacing without proper decompression, while aiding another
diver who had become ill.
Group Fricke traveled to
Indonesia in November 1999 with the JAGO submersible to study Latimeria menadoensis, the new species of coelacanth. After
several disappointments, they made an exciting discovery on their second to last day out. In a deep water cave, they observed
a pair of live coelacanths. This was the very first sighting of the new coelacanth species in their natural habitat. An account
was published in the January 6, 2000, issue of NATURE.
Dr. Mark Erdmann discovered the new species of Indonesian coelacanth, literally right under his nose in a push cart, I'm certain
he never imagined the scientific wrangling that would come to pass. First, he faced the experts that dismissed his discovery
as nothing more than a "honeymoon prank." What followed was even worse. When JLB Smith first identified and studied Latimeria
chalumnae, he was extremely fearful that the discovery would be stolen away from him. When I first read of his accounts, I
dismissed his fears as simple paranoia. I couldn't have been more incorrect. Professor Erdmann's incredible discovery was
indeed stolen away from him. He freely shared his sample with other scientists who ran their own DNA sampling and prematurely
announced and named this new species before Erdmann. In the scientific world, the first to publish wins. Period. The discovery
of the coelacanth may be the zoological discovery of the twentieth century--but Professor Erdmann's loss is the zoological
theft of the twentieth century.
The United Nations Convention on Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) met April 10-20, 2000 in Nairobi, Kenya. On
April 19, 2000, Germany introduced, and delegates adopted, a proposal to list all coelacanths species in Appendix 1. There
was no argument regarding this proposal, which imposed a total ban on all international trade in the species. This vote was
extremely important to the future survival of all coelacanth species. Proposal 11.50 lists the Genus Latimeria spp. in Appendix
1 of CITES. This means that in addition to the previously protected Comoros population, the Indonesian population and any
yet undiscovered populations of Latimeria will be protected under Appendix 1, which affords the highest level of protection.
This proposal was passed to protect the two currently known species of Latimeria, as well as any species yet undiscovered.
Strict regulation, along with worldwide education, may be the only hope that the coelacanth has to avoid extinction.
Said Ahamada is working very hard for coelacanth conservation
in the Comores. His group has recently organized workshops on coelacanth release techniques. He is currently working on the
plans for an environmental educational structure to be constructed at Itsoundzou, Grande Comore, the site of a proposed coelacanth
park. Donations to aid his efforts would be greatly appreciated. His address:
APG (Association Pour la
Preservation du Gombessa)
BP 1545 Moroni, Grande Comore, Comores