The Science Fiction Fish


The Pink Flamingo has been a coelacanth fan since I was in elementary school.  The whole story of the discovery of the “living fossil” is fascinating.

“...A few days before Christmas in 1938, a Coelacanth was caught at the mouth of the Chalumna River on the east coast of South Africa. The fish was caught in a shark gill net by Captain Goosen and his crew, who had no idea of the significance of their find. They thought the fish was bizarre enough to alert the local museum in the small South African town of East London.

Even more interesting is the latest information that is something out of a science fiction or horror tale conceived by Stephen King or Dean Koontz.  They can live up to 300 or 400 years. No babies have been seen.  When an adult dies, a young adult appears from nowhere and takes its place.

This is the stuff of a great story – but it is reality!


The Director of the East London Museum at the time was Miss Marjorie Courtney-Latimer. She alerted the prominent south African ichthyologist Dr J.L.B. Smith to this amazing discovery. The Coelacanth was eventually named (scientific name: Latimeria chalumnae) in honour of Miss Courtney-Latimer….”


“…Fricke: You immediately grasp that something is fishy with this fish. It is not a normal fish. Their movements are extremely slow; it has something like a mute character. I had the feeling I had an amphibian in front of me, because of the movements of the fins.

I discovered a very funny, tetrapod-like movement of the fins, a kind of cross-step that they do. If you were to cut a coelacanth across the middle, you’d see that it’s almost an ellipse. If one make a downbeat with its right pectoral, the beast turns. To counter this, it has to make a counter-downbeat on the far left side. This produces the tetrapodic cross-step. It’s a normal thing for an animal on land, but we’re talking about a fish. This could be a pre-adaptation for the step to land.

They move so slowly. J.L.B. Smith said this gives you impression they crawl on their fins at the bottom of the sea, but they don’t. They don’t even touch with their fins. If they move so slowly, how do they capture prey?

Fricke: They have a giant electroreceptor in their head, called the rostral organ. They perceive the electric field which a swimming object in salt water produces.

Lava fields have reduced magnetic anomalies, and if you swim as a fish in this field, of course you produce in your own body an electric field which you could measure. It is very likely the fish orientates himself via detecting magnetic anomalies in seawater. It’s amazing — it’s a landscape like Hell, like the lava fields in Hawaii, and they go into this field and orient themselves precisely and fast. How do juveniles find homes?

Fricke: We never found a juvenile. We are very puzzled by the fact that we see only sub-adults. That means they must live somewhere else, and we don’t know where. We had once a pregnant female radio-marked with a pinger, and she did something extraordinary: She went down to 2,300 feet and remained for the day at that depth. Something must have happened with her. I believe she gave birth, but I could not follow her and see if her abdomen was still swollen and prove it. But it makes sense that they live down there. If a juvenile swam in front of an adult, they’d eat it.

Fricke: They have the slowest metabolic rate known among vertebrates. We made a calculation that a coelacanth needs, for its resting metabolism, 3.8 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram per hour. A tuna needs 400 milliliters. Because coelacanths are always burning at a low metabolic flame, they are able to live in low-energy areas, where there isn’t much food. The lava fields are a low-product habitat. They need about 12 grams of food a day. This is probably the secret of their evolutionary success. They live where hyperactive fish cannot survive….”

Nat Geo