MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: prehistoric fish thought extinct washed up alive in CA a few years ago

Date: Mon Sep 11 10:47:22 2000
Posted By: James Cotton, Graduate Student, Molecular Evolution & Systematics
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 959898601.Zo

Dear Juli,

Thanks for asking!

Not being a Californian, i obviously don't know anything particularly about the fish sighting you mention, but i can assure you that it wasn't a Coelecanth - there are thought to be two populations of living coelecanths, one from the West Indian Ocean, which produced the famous first example in 1938 from South African fishermen, and about 200 other specimens from around the Comoros islands off Madagascar. Another population of coelecanth was discovered in Indonesia the second coelecanth species has been called Latimeria menadoensis, while the first species from the Indian ocean is Latimeria chalumnae (Miss Latimer described the first specimen, while it was caught at the mouth of the Chalumna river.. not sure where menadoensis comes from).

You can read all about the story of these Coelecanth discoveries in articles on-line from The Washington Post, from CNN and in other articles from the Bekeleya n newspaper. Theres even an excellent and extensive website all about coelecanths that i wholeheartedly recommend. Some scientific references to the same discovery are:

Erdmann, M.V., R.L. Caldwell, and M.K. Moosa. 1998. Indonesian 'King of the sea' discovered. Nature 395(Sept. 24):335.

Milius, S. 1998. Second group of living fossils reported. Science News 154(Sept. 26):196.

Pouyard, L. 1999. A new species of coelacanth discovered in Indonesia. Comptes Rendus de l'Académie des Sciences 322(April)339.

I think your recollection of a living-fossil fish in california might actually be a confusion with the Indonesian sighting of the new coelecanth species.. There certainly aren't any coelecanth sightings off the West US Coast, or within tens of thousands of miles, but Mark V. Erdmann, the zoologist who first noticed the Indonesian coelcanth specimens, was and still is based at the University of California at Berkeley - i imagine it might have been reported in the local press, adn this might have confused you a bit, and would explain why other people think a coelecanth was involved. As you can see from the photos of the coelecanth at the dinofish website, coelecanths are blue with snapping jaws.

Hope this seems satisfactory,

James Cotton

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