Demand for shark fins and oil has led fishers in southwestern Madagascar to set gill-nets in deeper waters. They are finding — and possibly harming — previously-unknown populations of these West Indian Ocean coelacanths. The landing of the first living coelacanth off the coast of South Africa made world headlines in 1938. Marine scientists were agog. A truly remarkable “four-legged, living fossil fish” had seemingly returned from the dead. In the ensuing decades, more of these rare and unusual fish were caught off the coastlines of South Africa, Tanzania, and the Comoros Islands; a different coelacanth species turned up in Indonesian waters. Living coelacanths are found in undersea canyons at depths between 100 and 500 metres. They belong to an ancient group of fishes whose origins can be traced back 420 million years. They have eight fins, large eyes and a small mouth, and a unique pattern of white spots allowing each fish to be individually identified. They weigh up to 90 kilogrammes and give birth to live young after a gestation period of 36 months. The Western Indian Ocean species, Latimeria chalumnae, is classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, while a similar species found in the seas around Indonesia (L. menadoensis) is classified as Vulnerable. Coelacanths in a cave off Grand Comore. Image by Hans Fricke. Old fish caught by new fishery Beginning in the 1980s, a new commercial market in China for shark fins and oil prompted fishers off the southwest coast of Madagascar to set large-mesh…This article was originally published on Mongabay Läs mer

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