The Lost Coelacanth

The Lost Coelacanth

No one on board expected that day, December 22, 1938, that a creature believed extinct would be taking up the ship deck. A coelacanth, a fish extinct 65 million of years ago, was captured in South African waters. The specimen was 1.5 meters long and had a weight of 50 kg. It was the only specimen known of the coelacanths' group alive.

Image of the first Coelacanth
Photography of the first coelacanth
This was striking news for the scientific community, because a species believed to be extinct lived in the South African seas. The surprises continued though. In 1998, a new species was discovered alive in the Celebes islands, almost 10,000 km away from the previously known.

This way, it wasn't one, but two the coelacanth species in our seas: Latimeria chalumnae (African species) y Latimeria menadoensis (Indonesian species).

The coelacanths are very peculiar animals nowadays, not only because they are "living fossils", but also because they represent a transition mode from the aquatic to terrestrial environment. Their limbs have some evolutionary characteristics indicating a future movement onto land. This is something we can only see in the coelacanths and the lungfishes.

Mawsonia, Coelacanth sizes
a) Mawsonia, b) L. chalumnae, c) L. menadoensis

In addition to this peculiarity, the coelacanths surprise for its variety, including big size species. The Mawsonia, for example, was one of the biggest coelacanth species, with up to 6 meters in length and 600 kg in weight.
It lived in the salty waters of South America and Africa, and it was a regular prey of the Spinosaurus-- a big African dinosaur adapted to the aquatic environment--, as well as for some species of prehistoric prehistoric Crocodiles.

We don't know what other surprises would come from deep, mysterious oceans, but it's possible that prehistoric creatures watch over the most dark and inaccessible abysses. It's all about time and patience to reveal those secrets.


  • History of the Coelacanth Fishes by Peter Forey.
  • Discovering Fossil Fishes by John Maisey and John G. Maisey.
  • Fishes of the World by Joseph S. Nelson.
  • Video Finding the Coelacanth, National Geographic 

By Germán Z. López
This post can also be read in Spanish at our partner blog Made in Pangea.

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Tags: coelacanth, curiosity, fish, Latimeria chalumnae, Latimeria menadoensis, mawsonia, new species

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