A group of South African shark ʜᴜɴᴛᴇʀs have unwittingly rediscovered a population of fish predating dinosaurs that many in the scientific community believed to be ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ.
The “four-legged fossil fish” known as the coelacanth has been found alive and well in the West Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar, according to a report from the nonprofit environmental conservation platform Mongabay News.
The unexpected rediscovery of the “living fossils” was thanks to the shark ʜᴜɴᴛᴇʀs using gillnets during their expedition. As the ʜᴜɴᴛᴇʀs ᴛᴀʀɢᴇᴛᴇᴅ sharks for their oil, fins, and various other commercial enterprises, their devices were able to reach deep-sea nets where coelacanths gathered roughly 328-492 feet below the surface.
Coelacanths or Latimeria are carnivorous fish that live up to 60 years and grow as large as 6.5 feet and weigh approximately 198 pounds.
According to National Geographic, these primitive-looking coelacanths are believed to have gone ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ 65 million years ago along with the dinosaurs. However, in 1938, sa South African museum curator ignited a scientific debate on how the unique lobe-finned fish fits into the existing evolutionary timeline of land animals.
The coelacanth is not the only species rediscovered after going “ᴇxᴛɪɴᴄᴛ” in local populations. In April, a highly ᴠᴇɴᴏᴍᴏᴜs sea snake was found in Australia for the first time in 23 years.
Coelacanths are rarely sighted deep-sea creatures that thrived in depths of up to 2,300 feet below the surface.
The uniqueness of the “four-legged living fossil” is its paired lobe fins extending away from its body like human legs alternating pattern similar to a trotting horse.
A recent study in the SA Journal of Science indicated that the coelacanths might face a new ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ to survival with the uptick in shark ʜᴜɴᴛing, which began ʙᴏᴏᴍing in the 1980s.
Researchers fear that the rediscovery of the coelacanths may lead to heightened ʀɪsᴋs of “ᴇxᴘʟᴏɪᴛᴀᴛɪᴏɴ” especially in Madagascar where past sightings have been cited. “There is little doubt that large mesh jarifa gillnets are now the biggest ᴛʜʀᴇᴀᴛ to the survival of coelacanths in Madagascar,” they wrote.
Their study goes on to purport that, with Madagascar likely being the “ᴇᴘɪᴄᴇɴᴛᴇʀ” of various coelacanth subspecies, it is imperative that conservation steps are taken to preserve the ancient species.