The Coelacanth fish has ‘medieval’ written all over it. It is one of those creatures that belong to the yesteryears – enormous, menacing, armoured and scaly. The elusive bottom-dwelling fish measures 1.8 M and weighs 77 KG. When local fishers recently caught one off the Kenya coast, it shocked the world. Until now, the Coelacanth only existed in museums and believed to have become extinct 65 million years ago! The innocent fishers from Malindi could not fathom the significance of their catch. To them, it was just another good day at work.
On an ordinary fishing expedition in 2002, the crew of the Venture boat netted the rarest of gems at a depth of 85 M. It was the first-ever recording of the species in East African waters. Only a few museums around the world boast of having one.
A fishing company, Wananchi Marine Products, had an inkling they had bagged a price catch, so they preserved the strange-looking fish for four months in their cold rooms. They showcased their find at the Mombasa show, where scientists spotted it. The creature ignited great scientific interest in what other treasures lie in East African waters. The Malindi specimen lies preserved at the Department of Ichthyology of the National Museums of Kenya.
Until the 1938 Coelacanth discovery off the eastern coast of South Africa at the mouth of Chalumna River, Coelacanths existed as ancient fossils, some dating back more than 360 million years. The Coelacanth takes its name from the Greek language for having a hollow spine about its incompletely developed vertebral column. Only two living species exist today – the West Indian variety and the Indonesian kind. Both are very rare. The West Indian Ocean Coelacanth lives off the east coast of Africa. The Indonesian coelacanth inhabits the waters off Sulawesi in Indonesia.