walking to school like normal and tripping over the tail of a stegosaurus as
you make your way out your front door-- you'd probably be very surprised, to
say the least! That must have been how scientists felt when they recovered the
first documented specimen of coelacanth amongst the daily catch of local
fishermen in South Africa!
Once thought to have gone extinct way back in the Cretaceous period along with
the dinosaurs, the discovery that coelacanths were still surviving off coastal
regions of Africa and Indonesia sent shock waves through the scientific
community. Having changed very little since they first evolved, coelacanths are
quite different from most other fish. They have thick scaly armour to protect
themselves, and eight lobed fins that make them quite manoeuvrable in the
water. Their unique bodies allow them to orient themselves in almost any
direction under the water easily and comfortably-- coelacanths have been seen
doing headstands and even floating upside down without any sign of distress!
Coelacanths aren't often caught on purpose by fishermen-- because they're so
oily, eating these living fossils will actually make you very sick. However,
they are accidentally caught by traditional fishermen and deep sea trawlers
searching for other, more valuable types of fish. With such small populations,
it's uncertain how long coelacanths can endure these threats, but people are
taking action! In addition to having the coelacanth listed as endangered,
governments are working to protect coastlines and regulate fishing to help
ensure that the coelacanth, a species that has survived for 380 million years,
may continue to thrive for many more millennias!