Coelacanth found in Sodwana Bay

A coelacanth—a pre-historic fish once thought to be extinct and now known as “the living fossil”—was discovered last week by divers in Sodwana Bay.

African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (Acep) programmes manager Tony Ribbink said on Monday the fish was found at the unusually shallow depth of 54 metres.

“In scientific studies of coelacanths done since they were first rediscovered in 1938, they’ve never been observed in water shallower than 100 meters,” he said.

“They seem to prefer the cooler water temperature—between 16C and 21C—of the deeper parts of the ocean.

“Finding one in such shallow water could have turned our theories about the conditions in which they thrive upside down. But, the water temperature at the 54 meters where one was observed last week was indeed 17C. So, our theory still holds.”

Last week’s find was made by Christo van Jaarsveld, dive trainer and owner of the Adventure Mania diving charter, and three amateur divers under his supervision.

“Since coelacanths were found here at Sodwana in 2000, I’ve read up about them and studied photographs so that I could easily identify one if I came across it,” Van Jaarsveld said.
“It’s a great feeling to be doing what you love most and also be able to contribute to scientific knowledge.”

Van Jaarsveld and his clients stayed with the coelacanth for about five minutes, photographing it from all angles, before having to return to the surface.

“We were careful not to intrude on its territory and it didn’t seem in the least disturbed by us.”

Although only 18 coelacanths have been found in South Africa so far—all in the Sodwana area—the South African group is the second biggest in the world. The fish fall under the protection of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park authority.

Diving other than for official scientific research in the areas where they are normally found is banned. - Sapa

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