Coelacanth
A scuba diver watches a Coelacanth fish

The Coelacanth is probably the strangest and one of the ugliest looking fish around! This guys’ appearance may seem a bit scary with nothing joyful or colourful about it, they are a bit brown, grey, blue and whitish. On the whole a bit bland.

So ugly, old and fat, there doesn’t seem to be much charm about it, but its ability to evolve and survive makes it quite interesting.

Their name is derived from the Greek for “Hollow spine” because of its unique hollow spine fins. They can grow to more than 2 meters and weigh as much as 90 kg and can be found from 90 meters to 700 meters deep in volcanic area seem to like hanging around caves, maybe partly due to their eyes being extremely sensitive to lights.

 

This chubby guy is an ancestor of vertebrates living on land and used to live 65 millions years ago on this planet!! It was originally discovered by fossils and was thought to have been extinct around the same time as the Dinosaurs!

Playing hide and seek and changing appearance!!  A pretty cool superpower if you ask me!
900 x 600 Coelacanth2Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Latimeria_chalumnae_zobrazhenna.jpg, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en

They were rediscovered in 1938 nearby the Comoros islands and they may be very important for understanding the transition from water to land and vice versa. The marine “missing link” if you will.

Some recent studies and analysis suggest that the coelacanth was related to tetrapods. So these funny fishes could have evolved into a 4-legged land living animal before becoming a fish once again!

 

 

The tetrapods lived in water but also had lungs which they could use to breath air!

The descendants of these organisms began to live in shallow water and slowly moved to land. Of course during this process, they experienced natural selection and adaptations to a land way of life.

Getting back to the Coelacanth, they seem to be the link between fish and land animals because of his two pairs of lobed fins (leg like appendages – a rare thing for a fish). During the meteor storm that made the dinosaurs extinct, it’s likely that some coelacanths moved to deeper waters and stopped using their lungs and began relying exclusively on their gills to breath.

900 x 600 Coelacanth0Source: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/13/130418-coelacanth-genome-evolution-oceans-animals-science/

In an age of X-men movies you could say the Coelacanth is a true mutant!

Meeting one of these special fish in the flesh is extremely rare especially for us recreational divers who would never visit the depth at which they are found. However, their relatives can be found all around our reef if you would like to meet them!

Article by Orca Scuba Instructor Fanny Rotsaert.

Want to meet Fanny and her aquatic friends?  Contact us [email protected] or visit our website www.orcascuba.com

Main image source: Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:El-celacanto.jpg, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en