Wednesday, 18 April 2007 08:21

Coelacanth

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Coelacanth Coelacanth www.wikipedia.com
The Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park or iSimangaliso Wetland Park as it is now know can now add a living fossil to its record of marine species with the recent discovery of three living coelacanths in an underwater canyon off the coast near Sodwana Bay.  

 

These Coelacanth were photographed at a depth of 104 meters and were thought to be extinct until a specimen was caught in a trawler net in 1938 in the Eastern Cape.

Further specimens were found in the Comores Islands in 1952 and, more recently Indonesia and Madagascar. Now with the most recent discovery of "Old Four Legs" in the waters of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park there has been legislation introduced specifically to protect these dinosaurs of the deep. In terms of this regulation any disturbance to, or attempts to catch, locate and/or film these rare fish is forbidden and may only be made with a permit.

Further specimens were found in the Comores Islands in 1952 and, more recently Indonesia and Madagascar. Now with the most recent discovery of "Old Four Legs" in the waters of the Greater St. Lucia Wetland Park there has been legislation introduced specifically to protect these dinosaurs of the deep. In terms of this regulation any disturbance to, or attempts to catch, locate and/or film these rare fish is forbidden and may only be made under a permit

It can't be eaten because it causes diarrhoea and its only commercial use, according to fishermen, appears to be the rough scales which are used to sandpaper the inner tubes of bicycle tyres so that a puncture repair patch will stick.

First catch


I&J trawler captain Hendrik Goosen was examining his crew's catch of the day in the Eastern Cape in 1938, and decided that this was one fish that was too unusual to be a chip accompaniment.

He contacted the director of the East London museum, Dr Marjorie Courtenay Latimer and told her of his find.

"The taxi guy said 'I am not taking you back to the museum with that big, dirty fish'," recounted Crump, of the newly-appointed and resource-strapped Courtenay Latimer's attempts to get the vast fish back to her office.

"She did not have money for a preservative, there were no cellphones in those days, imagine how she must have battled to get word through quickly while trying to preserve it," continued Crump.

Later, after making contact with JLB Smith, an ichthyologist at Rhodes University, he finally confirmed with his sceptical international colleagues that the unusual catch of the day was in fact a fish that scientists thought was extinct.

Once thought extinct, this fish has elements that would associate it with the "missing link" between fish and amphibians, like the humerus (upper arm bone)-type bones in its fins. But it shows no sign of developing a lung, so scientists continue to be fascinated by it.

As soon as the university heard that a Coelacanth was coming up to Gauteng for a climate change conference, they leapt at the chance of a two-day cameo appearance in their department.

Nestling in the tank, among the displays of pinned bugs and butterflies, this now protected species is thought to predate dinosaurs by 200 million years, and thought to have become extinct 70 million years ago. It likes temperatures of between 14ºC and 21ºC, scuttles along the ocean bed using its pectoral, pelvic, anal, dorsal and cordal fins alternately - which sets it apart from other fish - to trawl for food, it's huge jaw-like gills opening wide to swallow its prey whole.

They also have giant glowing eyes that latch onto the available light in the caves they like to inhabit.

With about 700 left in the world, with some found in Sodwana on South Africa's north coast and another species in Indonesia.



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