Coelacanth fish, once believed to be extinct, found alive in Indian Ocean

The first living coelacanth was caught in 1938, when a group of fishers set gill-nets off the southwest coast of Madagascar.

Coelacanth, an extremely rare species of fish, which was once thought to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs millions of years ago, has been found alive in the Indian Ocean.

A report by Mongabay, a US-based non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform, states that the deep sea fish hunters were responsible for the appearances of the coelacanth over the decades. In fact, the first living coelacanth was caught in 1938, when a group of fishers set gill-nets off the southwest coast of Madagascar in deeper waters.

The increasing demand for shark fins and oil have prompted hunters to fish in deeper waters, leading to the discovery of the rare species on the coasts off South Africa, Tanzania, and the Comoros Islands. This species lives in undersea canyons at depths between 100 and 500 metres.

The Latimeria chalumnae, as it is scientifically called, is considered to be among the early steps of the fish’s evolution to terrestrial four-legged animals. It’s origin can be traced back to 420 million years.

A new study in the South African Journal of Science looks at the inventory of the coelacanth captures in the last decades. It notes that as of May 2020, as many as 334 coelacanth captures had been documented, with a recent sighting in Madagascar in March 2019.

The species is now listed as critically endangered and researchers worry that fishing with large gill-nets or ‘jarifa‘, as they are locally called, can threaten the survival of the coelacanths.

They further note that since the thin strands of a gillnet may not trigger the species’ sense organ (electro-reception) which otherwise has poor eyesight, the jarifas pose an additional threat.

The insight into the existing population of the rare species changes how the ecology of the Western Indian Ocean is viewed by researchers, however, the growing incidents of accidental captures are a cause of concern. Experts have highlighted a need to look at sustainable conservation methods for the species, especially in the Madagascar area.

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