Monday, July 30, 2007

A Fish For Time … Any Time

Graphic fact file on the coelacanth, a rare fish once thought to be extinct for millions of years until one was caught in 1938 off the coast of East Africa. A living specimen was caught in Indonesia this year, only the second ever in the region. Image Credit: AFP Graphic

A Fish For Time … Any Time

The Coelacanth is just this type of ocean creature.

It has become a fish of our time in that the sightings are so rare that these these occurrences create international attention in the scientific community.

Most scientists believed that this fish was extinct until one was caught and catalogued about 70 years ago, in the Commoros archipelago, off of the coast of Eastern Africa.

Until this latest catch, there was only one other sighting in Indonesia (in the same area, Manado, as this sighting) back in 1998.

Coelacanths, closely related to lungfish, usually live at depths of 656-3,200 feet. They can grow up to 6.5 feet in length and weigh as much as 200 pounds.

This catch was equally unusual, in that, it came on the end of a 360 foot line … about half of the depth that scientists understood this fish could live.

Further, this Coelacanth is a fish for time … any time because it only took a little over two months for information on this capture to make it to general news distribution.

An unidentified researcher measures a coelacanth after it was caught by fishermen at a depth of about 100m off Nungwi, northern Zanzibar July 14, 2007. The fish weighed 27kgs with a total length of 134.8cm. The coelacanth, known from fossil records dating back more than 360 million years, was believed to have become extinct some 80 million years ago until one was caught off the eastern coast of South Africa in 1938 -- a major zoological find. Image Credit: Picture taken July 14, 2007. REUTERS/Dr Narriman Jiddawi/Institute of Marine Sciences in Zanzibar/Handout (TANZANIA)

This from Agence France-Presse (AFP) via Yahoo! News -

Scientists excited by Indonesian-caught coelacanth
By Ronan Bourhis - AFP - Sat Jul 28, 11:06 PM ET

MANADO, Indonesia - Two months ago Indonesian fisherman Justinus Lahama caught a fish so exceptional that an international team of scientists rushed here to investigate.

French experts equipped with sonar and GPS asked Lahama to reconstruct, in his dugout canoe, exactly what it was he did that enabled him to catch a rare coelacanth fish, an awkward-swimming species among the world's oldest.

Indonesian fisherman Justinus Lahama displaying to international researchers how he managed to capture a giant and very rare coelacanth fish in Manado, North Sulawesi, in June. Their fossil records date back more than 360 million years and suggest the animal has changed little in that time. Image Credit: AFP/File/Ronan Bourhis

Last May 19, Lahama and his son Delvy manoevred their frail canoe into the Malalayang river, on the outskirts of Manado, on northern Sulawesi island. Like any other morning, they rowed out to sea and fished within 200 metres (yards) of the beach.
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"I very quickly unrolled the usual trawl line with three hooks, about 110 metres (yards) long, and at the end of three minutes, I felt a large catch," Lahama recounts.

The pull was strong: "I had painful arms -- I felt such a resistance, I thought that I was pulling up a piece of coral."

After 30 minutes of effort under the searing tropical sun, he finally saw a fish swishing at a depth of about 20 metres (65 feet).

"The sea was very calm this day. There was no wind, no clouds, no current. The water was very clear. The fish let itself be drawn in from there," he says.

"It was an enormous fish. It had phosphorescent green eyes and legs. If I had pulled it up during the night, I would have been afraid and I would have thrown it back in," he exclaims.
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Lahama, 48, has fished since he was 10 years old, like his father and his grandfather before him. But he was unlikely to have ever run into this "living fossil" species, as scientists have dubbed the enigmatic fish.

Fin of a very rare coelacanth fish in Manado as Indonesian, Japanese and French specialists (unseen) carry out an autopsy, North Sulawesi, in June. Coelacanths are among the world's oldest fish species. Their fossil records date back more than 360 million years and suggest the animal has changed little in that time. Image Credit: AFP/File/Ronan Bourhis

Lahama's catch, 1.3 metres long and weighing 50 kilograms (110 pounds) was only the second ever captured alive in Asia.
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Their fossil records date back more than 360 million years and suggest that the fish has changed little over that period.
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Returning to port, he
[Lahama] showed it off to the most senior fisherman, who became alarmed.

"It is a fish which has legs -- it should be given back to the water. It will bring us misfortune," he told him. But the unsuperstitious Lahama decided to keep it.

After spending 30 minutes out of water, the fish, still alive, was placed in a netted pool in front of a restaurant at the edge of the sea. It survived for 17 hours.

The local fisheries authorities filmed the fish swimming in the metre-deep pool, capturing invaluable images as the species had only previously been recorded in caves at great depths.

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The site of capture, so close to the beach and from a depth of 105 metres, had intrigued the scientists. Does the Indonesian coelacanth live in shallower waters than its cousin in the Commoros?

Lahama's fish is to be preserved and will be displayed in a museum in Manado.
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