Top Ten Coelacanth Stories of 2011
by Loren Coleman, Director, International Cryptozoology Museum
1. Second Population Discovered Off Tanzania
A team of Japanese researchers has discovered a hitherto unknown population of coelacanths, a fish species known as a “living fossil,” off southeast Africa. In November 2011, researchers from Tokyo Institute of Technology and other entities noted the newly found breeding group of coelacanths linked to the site has existed for more than 200,000 years, without genetic contact with other groups. Researchers felt there was only one breeding group of the species off Africa. 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.
2. Stable Comoros Population Documented
A study published in 2011 in the journal Marine Biology summarized 21 years of coelacanth population research by one team, led by Hans Fricke of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. Working in the Indian Ocean off the African island nation of Comoros, Fricke documented a stable population of Latimeria chalumnae. However, his study notes that deep-set fishing nets could threaten these unique animals.
Group formation of coelacanths within a single cave off Grand Comore. Photo by: Hans Fricke
Hans Fricke with a caught (dead) coelacanth. Photo by: Raphael Plante
3. Coelacanths Live To Be Over 100
A coelacanth near South Africa’s Sodwana Bay. Photograph by Laurent Ballesta, National Geographic.
Based on the findings in the Fricke study, National Geographic decided to highlight one aspect of the findings: Coelacanths are incredibly old fish, sometimes living to be over a hundred years in age (see here).
4. New Book Documents All Captures
Years of in-depth research by coelacanth researchers and bibliographers Rik Nulens, Lucy Scott, and Marc Herbin has produced the most accurate account of all coelacanth catches ever published. (See abstract here, and order form here.)
5. Another Indonesian Coelacanth Caught
On July 21, 2011, at Tatapaan, Amurang – Minahasa, Sulawesi Utara, Indonesia, the fisherman Oktavianus Cowan Kawalo caught a 13.1kg, 105 cm long coelacanth. It was found alive, but died 1.5 hrs later on the boat.
The fisherman went to the Tumpaan fish market where the specimen was recognized by Jefri Lamia as the protected Latimeria. Then the authorities from the Department of Marine and Fisheries of North Sulawesi province were informed and Arifin Kiay Demak came immediately to the Tumpaan fish market and took the coelacanth with him to freeze it. Its descriptive name is “Indo 6,” and presently is held at the South Minahasa Fishery Office. Published reference, Tribun Manado, July 22, 2011. Photo courtesy Rik Nulens and Jerome Hamlin.
6. New Coelacanth Study Center Opens
The inauguration of the new Coelacanth Center in Moroni, Comoros was held March 31, 2011. The opening 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 people of the village contributed to the success of the day, introducing the future site of important coelacanth conservation.
7. NatGeo to Broadcast Documentary
In October 2011, National Geographic announced that it was in the process of filming in Africa a documentary about coelacanths for screening on television next year.
8. Coelacanth Dance Joins Effort to Save Species
At the IndoFest 2011 in April, at Adelaide, Australia, the North Sulawesy Government introduced a unique way to help prevent the coelacanth from extinction. This dance tells how the life of coelacanth almost has been destroyed because too many fishermen catch them.
9. National Geographic Magazine Publishes Photos of Living Indonesian Species
Photograph by Laurent Ballesta.
A team of divers led by famed French photographer Laurent Ballesta visited a cluster of Sodwana coelacanths in January-February, 2010. Their embargoed photograghs first appeared in the National Geographic Magazine issue of March 2011.
10. South Pacific Expedition Finds Recent Eyewitness Accounts
Jerome F. Hamlin of Dinofish.com conducted a Second South Pacific Coelacanth Expedition (SoPac II) in January 2011 to gather information on recent coelacanth sightings. On one exploration in the East, at the coastal village of Kaup, villagers claimed to know the fish. They call it “Bigmouth,” a name also used for groupers. However, they recognize the epicaudal fin, and tell of one being caught two months earlier with nets. There were no remains of the fish left at the village.
The photo shows a fisherman near Kaup studying coelacanth photos and the Safari company’s small plastic coelacanth model used for field identification purposes.
Hamlin’s expedition appears to have been the first to use specifically the Safari figurine, to try to inform their cryptozoological research with field eyewitness accounts.
Several fishermen at Choiseul recognized the coelacanth, with one claiming to have caught one the previous month. Hamlin captioned the above photo: “Reminiscent of JLB Smith, we leave reward posters, hoping for future catches to be reported.”
We look forward to what 2012 begins.
My thanks for assistance with this information from coelacanthologists Rik Nulens, Jerry Hamlin, and Robin Stobbs, plus coelacanth stamp images all year, courtesy of Pib Burns.
The International Cryptozoology Museum, which has as its logo a coelacanth, appreciates all Cryptomundians’ support, as always….
Thank you, and come visit the museum, which is an official nonprofit, at 11 Avon Street, Portland, Maine 04101, USA.