Prehistoric Fish That Lives Today Part 2

About the Coelacanth a prehistoric fish that may still live today, history and information about the search.


The captain took the creature to a local museum curator. Unable to identify it, she summoned Prof. J. L. B. Smith, an expert at the Albany Museum 25 mi. west of Grahamstown, South Africa. When Professor Smith saw the fish, he was stunned. "He felt as if he had stepped into a time capsule and been whisked back through the history of the earth 10 million years, 20 million, 70 million. Before him was the remains of a true Coelacanth. Only days before it had been alive. . . ."

Among the scientists of the world, the news caused a sensation. "This set in motion one of the most heartbreaking searches in all the world of natural history." Professor Smith was determined to find another Coelacanth, "one that was whole so specialists could study its organs and structure part by part. What facts such a specimen might reveal!" Professor Smith deduced how the fish had survived since prehistory, and where it might be found. Because of its slowness, "the Coelacanth must live in deep waters. Deep waters, rough rocky ledges, places where strong currents sweep food fish past those menacing jaws. That was not the kind of place where a trawl net could work, and it was not the kind of habitat found where the trawler had taken the strange fish."

Professor Smith prepared a circular, with a drawing of the fish, a pound 100 reward for the finder of the elusive creature, and a warning. "If you have the good fortune to catch or find one, do not cut or clean it in any way but get it whole at once to cold storage." Thousands of these circulars were distributed.

Fourteen years later, a fisherman, Ahmed Hussein, working 200 yds. off the shore, near the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean, hauled in a weird monster fish. Trying to sell it at the market, he was shown by a friend the yellowing circular offering a reward. Professor Smith was notified. In a special plane supplied by the Government, Professor Smith arrived. He unwrapped the fish. He stared at it. He recalled his emotions later. "I'm not ashamed to say that I wept. It was a Coelacanth." The odd fish that brought animal life to land had been found. "In the world of science, the Coelacanth has been hailed as the greatest biological discovery of the century."

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