Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A True Fish Story: 'Extinct' Species Lives

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A True Fish Story: 'Extinct' Species Lives

Article excerpt

SCIENTISTS have had few living organisms to examine that illustrate life during prehistoric times.

Mostly, they have had to depend on information fused in tablets of stone, where the great mammoths of the ice age and the collosal dinosaurs have left their calling cards.

In "Living Fossil: The Story of the Coelacanth," Keith S. Thomson recounts the discovery of a fish that has given scientists clues to what life was like at the time of the pterodactyls.

Through step-by-step detail, Thomson descibes the unfolding biological discovery of the coelacanth (pronounced SEEL-uh-kanth) - a fish believed extinct for 80 million years - from its first identification to zoologists' most recent expedition in 1989 when they tried to capture a live specimen.

Thomson not only introduces the reader to the fish, but also to the lives and personalities of the people who have devoted their careers to uncovering the mysteries of the coelacanth and its link to history.

One such is Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, the young curator of a natural history museum in the fishing port of East London, Cape Province, South Africa. In 1938, she received a call from a Capt. Hendrik Goosen, who said he had a fish for her museum.

When she got to the dock, she "saw a blue fin and pushing off the fish, the most beautiful fish I had ever seen was revealed. It was 5 feet long and a pale mauve blue with iridescent silver markings."

A second coelacanth was caught in 1952, 14 years after the first, this time, off the coast of the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean. Since then, coelacanths have only been captured at night, off the Comores and only by the island natives. What has researchers baffled is that the Comores did not exist until approximately 5 million years ago. So where in the system of evolving ocean basins did the coalacanths live during the 65 million years since the end of the Cretaceous? …

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