February 1, 2011
Documentary about the
Coelacanth, a prehistoric bony fish believed to have been long
extinct until one was caught in 1938 off the southern coast of
Africa. No trace was found again until May 2000 when a colony of the
fish were discovered and filmed.
The Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) is an enigmatic and important
species of fish. It is the only living member (along with a recently
discovered second species of Latimeria) of the lobe-finned fishes, a
group believed by some to be the sister-group of the terrestrial
Early naturalists, who had studied the fossil records, had long been
puzzled and intrigued by this creature, with its lobed, limb-like
fins. But it was only with the publication
On The Origin of Species, in 1859, and his theory of evolution, that its true
significance first became apparent.
For here was a fossil species that answered the critics who poured
scorn on the very idea that fish could somehow have walked out of
the sea and later diversified into the huge variety of land-based
animals around us today - including man himself.
Yet even after
Darwin’s theory became widely accepted, no naturalist
ever imagined that coelacanths might have survived into the modern
age. At least, not until Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer made her
astonishing discovery amid the fetid heat of that South African
Marjorie’s find turned conventional scientific thinking on its head.
But it was by no means the end of the coelacanths mystery. Not by a
For in the decades after that discovery, the coelacanth
continued to defy man’s best attempts to study it.