Skip to main content
ad info

 
CNN.com  nature
  Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  

 

  Search
 
 

 
NATURE
TOP STORIES

New hurdles hamper Galapagos oil spill cleanup

Insight, Prius lead the hybrid-powered fleet

Picture: Indonesia's Merapi volcano erupts

(MORE)

TOP STORIES

Up to 2,000 killed in India quake; fear of aftershocks spreads

Clinton aide denies reports of White House vandalism

New hurdles hamper Galapagos oil-spill cleanup

Two more Texas fugitives will contest extradition

(MORE)

MARKETS
4:30pm ET, 4/16
144.70
8257.60
3.71
1394.72
10.90
879.91
 


WORLD

U.S.

POLITICS

LAW

TECHNOLOGY

ENTERTAINMENT

HEALTH

TRAVEL

FOOD

ARTS & STYLE



(MORE HEADLINES)
*
  E-MAIL:
Subscribe to one of our news e-mail lists.
Enter your address:
Or:
Get a free e-mail account

 DISCUSSION:
 message boards
 chat
 feedback

  CNN WEB SITES:
CNN Websites
 AsiaNow
 En Español
 Em Português
 Svenska
 Norge
 Danmark
 Italian

 FASTER ACCESS:
 europe
 japan

 TIME INC. SITES:
 CNN NETWORKS:
Networks image
 more networks
 transcripts

 SITE INFO:
 help
 contents
 search
 ad info
 jobs

 WEB SERVICES:
CNN e-store


'Living fossils' discovered off South Africa coast

A coelacanth  

December 1, 2000
Web posted at: 1:53 PM EST (1853 GMT)

PRETORIA, South Africa (Reuters) -- When Pieter Venter went on a recreational deep dive off South Africa's northeast coast in October, he did not expect to come across a living fossil.

"I looked at it carefully and after about six seconds I suddenly realised it was a coelacanth," Venter told reporters on Friday.

A fish that had been swimming in the seas for some 400 million years, the coelacanth was believed to have been extinct for 70 million years until one was caught by a trawler off South Africa in 1938 and identified by a museum curator.

  MESSAGE BOARD
 

Venter said he saw three coelacanths on his October dive, 320 feet (104 meters) below the surface. The discovery was made off Sodwana, a bay renowned for its reefs and diving.

It was the first time a diver outside a submersible craft had seen the ancient species in its natural habitat. They have been observed from submersibles off the Comoro Islands, north of Madagascar.

Venter took a team back to verify the discovery and to try to catch them on film.

"The first sighting was like seeing a UFO without taking a photograph," he said.

On November 27, Venter's team found three coelacanths and filmed them at a depth of 350 feet (115 meters).

The expedition was marred by tragedy as one of the team died after surfacing without proper decompression.

The footage, which was shown to journalists, shows three fish ranging in length from one to two metres (three to six feet) "standing" on their heads and feeding off the ledge of an underwater canyon.

The coelacanth -- known as "old four legs" because of its extra fins -- inhabits deep water caves and canyons, far from the prying eyes of most divers.

Shallowest find to date

The Sodawana fish are the shallowest find so far of the species and the only known population that can be reached by 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.

The only other known population -- which may be a distinct sub-species -- is on the other side of the Indian Ocean, off Indonesia's remote Manado Tua Island.

The Indonesian group only came to light in 1997 when an American marine biologist came across one in a fish market.

Valli Moosa, South Africa's minister for environmental affairs and tourism, told reporters the exact location of the new discovery would be kept under wraps for now and authorities would regulate dives in the area to protect the fish.

"We want no human activity that will cause a disturbance for what is really a very vulnerable species," he said.

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

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



RELATED STORIES:
Undersea mountains yield living 'fossils'
June 26, 2000
New sighting of 'living fossil' intrigues scientists
September 23, 1998
'Sue,' the biggest T. rex, makes her public debut
May 17, 2000
Museum displays fossil of dinosaurs locked in combat
May 17, 2000

RELATED SITES:
American Museum of Natural History: Coelacanth
Coral Divers: Sodwana Bay South Africa


Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.
 Search   


Back to the top   © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.