WATCH: Rare coelacanth filmed off Sodwana coast

Picture: The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) / 
Ryan Palmer of the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB).
Picture: The African Coelacanth Ecosystem Programme (ACEP) / Ryan Palmer of the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB).

A rare coelacanth – one of only a handful of catalogued individuals – has been filmed off the coast of South Africa. 

Scientists on a research expedition near Sodwana made the discovery 125 metre below the surface with the help of a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) this week. 

The ancient fish were thought to be extinct until they were discovered off Chalumna (near East London) in December 1938.

There are only 33 known individuals, all of which have been catalogued in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park.

Dr Kerry Sink of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) was able to identify the fish spotted this week as Eric, an individual first identified in 2009 and last seen in 2013.

"We are happy that he seems to be very healthy"

Sink said Eric was fitted with a satellite tag in 2013 that allowed them to track his movements for six months. Tagging animals always comes with risks, so the team was relieved to find him again.

"We are happy that he seems to be very healthy," she added.

According to Dr Jean Harris of WILDOCEANS coelacanth have only been filmed by ROV four times in the area since 2000, three of which were off the team's research vessel Angra Pequena.

Harris was on board when the team made the discovery on Tuesday. She described the experience as "extraordinary and special" and said seeing the coelacanth electrified everyone on board.

"Since they are so rare it was like looking for a needle in a haystack so there was huge excitement on board!" she told News24.

She said the discovery will give scientists insight into the lifespan and habitat of the species.

"It lets us know that coelacanth are resident to the iSimangaliso park – this can help us work out how long they live, but also that there are so few because if there were more we would be seeing a lot more individuals," she said.

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