Q: The local fishermen net these regularly off the south coast of Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa. This one was still twitching when I photographed it. Do you have any idea what it might be? I believe that it was caught in extremely deep water.
A: Allan, that certainly is a coelacanth. Biologists currently recognize two species: Latimeria chalumnae from the Comoro Islands off east Africa and L. menadoensis from Indonesia. The fish have also been seen and/or captured in the waters off Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania. These populations are undergoing analysis to determine whether they represent range extensions of the two described species or are actually new species. The recent discovery of a
population of coelacanths living at relatively shallow depths (about 300 feet) near Sodwana Bay in South Africa shows coelacanths may not be as habitat-specific as once believed. Some anecdotal evidence suggests coelacanths may be present in the Gulf of Mexico and the Mediterranean Sea, although biologists have collected no individuals from these locations.
In any case, the coelacanth is an extremely rare, interesting relic fish holding a special fascination for many ichthyologists, including me.
- Ray Waldner