Latimeria: myths and legends



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Latimeria: myths and legends

Coelacanths were thought to have been extinct since the Cretaceous period, until a specimen was fished in 1938 in South Africa, in the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Chalumna River. Later other specimens were found in the Comoros Islands, Sulawesi, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar and South Africa, in the iSimangaliso Wetland protected area.

According to the fossils found, coelacanths first appeared in the Middle Devonian, about 390 million years ago. On average, a coelacanth reaches 80 kg, a length of two meters and a life expectancy of about 60 years. The coelacanth is the only living being that has an intercranial joint that allows it to completely separate the upper half of the skull from the lower one.

The first evidence of the existence of living coelacanths came in 1938 when Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, curator of a museum in East London, South Africa, in examining the haul of local fishermen for unusual marine fauna, came across a strange fish.

blue among the catch of a fishing boat who went hunting for sharks in the Indian Ocean at the mouth of the Chalumna River.

Latimeria: myths and legends

After taking the fish back to the museum, she realized that she was unable to classify it and so she decided to ask for information from her colleague Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith; meanwhile the fish was embalmed by a taxidermist and when Smith saw its remains he identified it as a coelacanth, a genus known at the time only from fossil specimens.

The fish species was named Latimeria chalumnae, in honor of the discoverer and the waters in which it was caught, and coelacanth has been considered a living fossil ever since. On October 28, 2000, in the protected waters of the St.

Lucia area, on the border with Mozambique, three divers Pieter Venter, Peter Timm, and Etienne le Roux, found a coelacanth at a depth of 104 meters. After having renamed themselves SA Coelacanth Expedition 2000, the three returned to the charge, this time equipped with photographic equipment and with a group of other divers ready to follow them.

On November 27, four of them found three coelacanths, of which one was between 1.5 and 1.8 meters long, while the others measured about 1 / 1.2 meters. The divers were able to photograph and film the animals, but, once they surfaced, one of them (Dennis Harding) died of a cerebral gas embolism as a result of an effort to help a companion, Christo Serfontein, who had momentarily lost consciousness.

. Between March and April 2002, the submarine Jago and the group of divers Fricke Dive Team managed to find, in the same area, a group of fifteen coelacanths, including a pregnant female, also managing to collect tissue samples from the animals.