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Fwd = 'Fossil fish' in dramatic sighting

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  • Frits Westra
    Forwarded by: fwestra@hetnet.nl URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1049000/1049818.stm Original Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000 16:17:47 +0100
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 2000
      Forwarded by: fwestra@...
      URL: http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/sci/tech/newsid_1049000/1049818.stm
      Original Date: Sat, 2 Dec 2000 16:17:47 +0100 (CET)

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      BBC News Online
      Friday, 1 December, 2000, 16:38 GMT

      'Fossil fish' in dramatic sighting

      The coelacanth, the ancient fish that has existed for at least 360
      million years, has been filmed swimming in shallow waters off the
      northeast coast of South Africa.

      I looked at it carefully and after about six seconds I suddenly
      realised it was a coelacanth

      Not just one animal but six of the extraordinary creatures were
      spotted by divers exploring a reef at Sodwana Bay.

      It is the first time these "living fossils" have been observed by
      anyone outside of a submersible vessel.

      The coelacanth was thought to have died out 70 million years ago,
      until a fish caught off South Africa was identified by a museum
      curator in 1938.

      Since then, a number of the prehistoric animals have been found living
      around the Comoro islands near Madagascar and off Indonesia's Manado
      Tua Island.

      The diver, Pieter Venter, said he first saw the fish at a depth of 104
      metres (320 feet).

      Diving team South African Ministry of Environment
      The team of divers that filmed the fish lost one of its members
      getting the pictures

      He told reporters: "I looked at it carefully and after about six
      seconds I suddenly realised it was a coelacanth. This means there must
      be a large colony that was hiding from the world all this time."

      He later returned with a team of divers to try to capture the
      creatures on film. But the mission was marred by tragedy when one of
      the team died after surfacing without decompression.

      Nevertheless, footage of the animals was obtained and shown to
      journalists on Friday. It revealed three fish ranging in length from
      one to two metres (three to six feet). They were "standing" on their
      heads and feeding off the ledge of an underwater canyon.

      The film has been scrutinised and verified by a coelacanth expert.

      Secret location

      Experts are surprised that the Sodawana fish were found in shallow
      waters accessible to divers.

      "This discovery suggests that the coelacanth may be far more
      widespread than was originally believed, perhaps anywhere where you
      get these deep canyons and old reefs in tropical waters," said marine
      biologist Johann Augustyn.

      South African authorities say they intend to keep the exact location
      of the new discovery a secret for now to protect the fish.

      "We want no human activity that will cause a disturbance for what is
      really a very vulnerable species," said Valli Moosa, South Africa's
      minister for environmental affairs and tourism.

      The area of the discovery is already a protected marine reserve where
      fishing on the seabed is prohibited.

      'Old four-legs'

      The coelacanth has been dubbed "old four-legs" because of its four
      lobed fins.

      It is the last of an ancient line of fish that many scientists believe
      gave rise to the first four-legged land-dwelling vertebrates.

      Coelacanths have been observed in deep water off the Comoro Islands,
      north of Madagascar, but only by divers in submersibles.

      The only other known population was discovered on the other side of
      the Indian Ocean, off Indonesia's remote Manado Tua Island.

      The Indonesian fish, which may be a distinct sub-species, only came to
      light in 1997 when an American scientist saw one in a market.

      This is the first sighting of a coelacanth in South African waters
      since the 1938 catch.

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