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Friday, October 2, 1998 Published at 17:07 GMT 18:07 UK


'Extinct' fish found in second home

"Old Fourlegs" is one of the fish's many nicknames

A fish, until recently thought to have become extinct millions of years ago, has surfaced off Indonesia.

BBC Science Correspondent James Wilkinson: "Distant cousin of land animals"
Scientists found the rare fish on a market slab after it was caught by a local fisherman - thousands of miles from its only known habitat.

The spectacular find is causing scientists to review what they know about the coelacanth and ask more questions.

Coelacanth were thought to have died out until some were found in 1938 in and around the Comoros Islands in the western Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

Since then that was thought to be the only surviving population until the Indonesian specimens were caught - 6,000 miles away.

[ image: Ancient ancestors: Coelacanth fossils]
Ancient ancestors: Coelacanth fossils
Marine biologist Mark Erdman said: "It's a spectacular discovery in the sense that it certainly opens the possibility of all types of other fish and sea monsters that might some day pop up."

The fish, often described as a "living fossil", was discovered by a scientist's wife walking through a fish market in Sulawesi island, Indonesia.

But the fantastic find was almost thrown back into the sea by the shark fisherman who caught it.

He said: "It had bad, oily fish. We didn't think we could eat it but I'm glad we decided to keep it."

Now scientists are hoping to catch further coelacanth to help answers basic questions about its life and history such as how long they live and what predators they face.

Monster fish

A report in the scientific journal Nature says more coelacanth could be found between the two population centres.

BBC Science Correspondent James Wilkinson reports
Before 1938, when a fishing trawler landed a 12kg specimen while operating off the South African coast, coelacanth were thought to have been extinct for 65 million years.

But that was a mere baby compared to a 5ft long, 29kg monster caught in July this year off Indonesia.

Scientists have warned recently that the Indian Ocean population of the fish at the Comoros islands appeared to be diminishing.

A group of scientists from the University of California are planning further expeditions in Indonesia and to the islands between there and the Comoros Islands.

'Fish out of time'

The Coelacanth Rescue Mission, which tries to protect the Comoros population, has hailed the latest discovery on its Website.

[ image: Seas off Indonesia where rare fish has been found]
Seas off Indonesia where rare fish has been found
The mission has a number of names for the fish including "Fish out of Time" and "Old Fourlegs" because of its unusual fin arrangement.

It adds that its Latin name is Latimeria chalumnae and that the pronunciation of coelacanth is "see-la-kanth".

In Sulawesi, locals call it "raja laut" or "king of the sea"

The Website says DNA comparisons will be performed between the Indonesian and Comoran specimens, but believes "the first scientifically observed specimens appear identical to the Comoran coelacanth".

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Coelacanth - from American Museum of Natural History

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