Species: Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae)
Status: Critically Endangered (CR)
Interesting Fact: The coelacanth is a member of an ancient lineage that has been around for over 360 million years. It may be the closest living relative to the first creature to walk on land!
The enigmatic coelacanth was believed to have gone extinct with the dinosaurs until its remarkable rediscovery in 1938. Fossils have been found all over the world except for Antarctica. Living coelacanths have been found in deep submarine caverns, reefs and slopes in a number of locations off the coast of Africa.
Unlike any other living animal, coelacanths have a hinged joint in the skull allowing the front part of the head to be lifted whilst feeding on fish such as cardinal fish, eels and skates. Coelacanths also have a large gel-filled cavity in the head, called the rostral organ, which can detect electric fields and may be used to locate prey or monitor its surroundings. Coelacanths are ovoviviparous (young develop inside the mother), and females may give birth to up to 26 pups. They are long lived, being thought to survive for up to 80 years.
The coelacanth is a difficult species to monitor. It is accidentally caught on lines whilst local fishermen search the deep waters for other species. A low reproductive rate means this species is particularly vulnerable to the removal of pregnant females from the population. The coelacanth is on listed Appendix I of CITES, and localised, voluntary bans on fishing protect areas where this species is known to inhabit.
Find out more about the coelacanth at the Australian Museum website.
Lauren Pascoe, ARKive Media Researcher