In 1984 I found myself in East London, South Africa, a small city with not much going on. Museums are interesting to me, especially the Natural History section and for a small place East London has an excellent one.
There I found out about and saw a stuffed dinosaur fish, the Coelacanth. Scientist though that it had gone extinct along with the other dinosaurs 65 million years back. But then on 23 December 1938, the first Latimeria specimen was found off the east coast of South Africa. A Rhodes University ichthyologist, J.L.B. Smith, confirmed the fish’s importance with a famous cable: “MOST IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED”.
No internet in 1984.
This is the Coelacanth preserved and on view at the East London Museum. Photo courtesy of eastlondon.org.za
The first recorded Coelacanth fossil, found in Australia, was of a jaw that dated back 360 million years, the fossil record is unique because Coelacanth fossils were found 100 years before the first live specimen was identified.
Ironically, the dinosaur fish is at risk of becoming, really extinct this time. Fishermen sometimes snag a Coelacanth instead of an oilfish because they traditionally fish at night, when oilfish and Coelacanths feed. Before scientists became interested in Coelacanths, they were thrown back into the water if caught. They are no good for eating apparently. Now that there is an interest in them, fishermen trade them in to scientists or other officials once they have been caught. So the very people that should want to preserve the species is the biggest threat to this dinosaur fish.
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