The Coelacanth Fishes / Die Quastenflosser Fische

A Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) Model at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany

By: Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa

Article Reference

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2014). A  Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) Model at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 111, March 2014, Jumada Al Oula 1435 AH. pp. 1–9.  Dubai and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. http://quastenflosser.webs.com/coelacanthmuseumkoenig.htm

The Coelacanth Model at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa. 06.01.2003.

On the 06th January 2003 I visited, accompanied with my daughter Nora, the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig (The Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum) in Bonn, Federal Republic of Germany. 

The Alexander Koenig Zoological Research Museum is a natural history museum and zoological research institution in Bonn, Germany. The museum is named after the German Naturalist and Zoologist Alexander Ferdinand Koenig (1858-1940), who founded the museum and donated his collection of specimens to the institution. The museum was opened in 1934 and is affiliated with the University of Bonn (Wikipedia).

During my scientific visit I saw a model of the Coelacanth fish (Latimeria chalumnae Smith, 1939). The model was made by Mr. Wolfgang Hartwig, the chief taxidermist of Museum Koenig, and was displayed in one of the glass vitrines.

The Coelacanth Model at Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa. 06.01.2003.

The Coelacanths constitute a rare order of fish that includes two extant species in the genus Latimeria: the West Indian Ocean coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae Smith, 1939) and the Indonesian coelacanth (Latimeria menadoensis Pouyaud, Wirjoatmodjo, RachmatikaTjakrawidjaja, Hadiaty & Hadie, 1999). They follow the oldest known living lineage of Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish and tetrapods), which means they are more closely related to lungfish, reptiles and mammals than to the common ray-finned fishes. They are found along the coastlines of the Indian Ocean and Indonesia. Since there are only two species of coelacanth and both are threatened, it is the most endangered order of animals in the world. The West Indian Ocean coelacanth is a critically endangered species (Wikipedia).

 

Coelacanths belong to the subclass Actinistia, a group of lobed-finned fish related to lungfish and certain extinct Devonian fish such as osteolepiforms, porolepiformsrhizodonts, and Panderichthys. Coelacanths were thought to have gone extinct in the Late Cretaceous, but were rediscovered in 1938 off the coast of South Africa. Traditionally, the coelacanth was considered a “living fossil” due to its apparent lack of significant evolution over the past millions of years; and the coelacanth was thought to have evolved into roughly its current form approximately 400 million years ago. However, several recent studies have shown that coelacanth body shapes are much more diverse than is generally said. In addition, it was shown recently that studies concluding that a slow rate of molecular evolution is linked to morphological conservatism in coelacanths are biased on the prior hypothesis that these species are “living fossils” (Wikipedia). 

The Coelacanth Model at Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa. 06.01.2003.

Many species of coelacanth have been found as fossils. They are not large - thirty centimetres or so in length. Some specimens have been preserved in miraculous detail with every scale and fin-ray present. A juvenile was uncovered in the rocks of Illinois with traces of its yolk sack beneath its belly, plain to see. They are most abundant in deposits about 400 million years old, but thereafter they become scarcer and none has been found in rocks younger than 70 million years. Since they were flourishing during the period when the land was invaded and since they certainly possessed limb-like fins, it seemed likely that they were the creatures from which the first land vertebrates were descended. Their fossils were therefore studied with great care to try and determine exactly how they moved and how they breathed. But scientists reconciled themselves to the fact that the answers to such questions would never be known with certainty since the fish had obviously become extinct long ago (Attenborough 1979, Khalaf 1987).

The Coelacanth Model at Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa. 06.01.2003.

And then, in 1938, a trawler fishing off the coast of South Africa brought up a very strange fish. It was large, nearly two metres long, with powerful jaws and heavy armoured scales. After the catch had been landed at East London, the curator of the small local museum, Miss Courtenay-Latimer, came down to look it over. She noticed this peculiar fish and although she was not a fish specialist, she became convinced that it was of great importance. She wrote to Professor J.B.L. Smith of Grahamstown University, the greatest authority on African fish, describing it briefly. Before he could get to the specimen, its entrails had decomposed so badly that they had to be thrown away, so it was a gutted specimen that he eventually saw. In spite of this, and the fact that it was so large, he recognised it immediately as a coelacanth. He named it Latimeria and informed an astonished world that a creature thought to have been extinct for 70 million years was still alive (Attenborough 1979, Khalaf 1987).

The Coelacanth Model at Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa. 06.01.2013.

The discovery was hailed as the scientific sensation of the century and a huge search for another specimen was mounted. Leaflets and posters carrying a picture of Latimeria and offering a huge reward were distributed among the countless fishing villages that dot the coasts of southern and eastern Africa. But without result. Then, fourteen years later, after it had seemed that this strange fish had appeared only to disappear totally, another was caught, not off South Africa but a thousand miles away in Anjouan, one of the tiny Comoro Islands that lie in the Indian Ocean midway between Madagascar and the coast of Tanzania. The first one, it seems, was a stray, for the fishermen of the Comoros said that the coelacanth was no stranger to them. They caught one or two each season in depths of about two or three hundred metres. They did not often fish for them deliberately, for a coelacanth fights hard when it is hooked and a man might have to struggle with one of them for many hours before it could be hauled on board his canoe. And after all that trouble, its flesh is oily and not particularly good to eat. Indeed, almost the most valuable part of the coelacanth anatomy, to the Comorians, is its rough heavy scales. They are very useful for rubbing down inner tubes when mending a puncture (Attenborough 1979, Khalaf 1987).

Since that time, several dozen more coelacanths have been caught and paradoxically, science now knows more about Latimeria than many an abundant fish. A pregnant female has been caught with young inside her attached to their yolk sacs, just like the Illinois fossil, showing that the species does not lay its eggs but gives birth to live young. But because it is so powerful a fish, such a doughty fighter and has to be dragged up from such depths, Latimeria very seldom reaches the shore alive (Attenborough 1979, Khalaf 1987).

One of the fishermen brought a Coelacanth in, lashed to the side of his canoe. It, too, was nearly dead, but he was persuaded to release it in a bay long enough for it to be filmed with an underwater camera as it swam slowly above the bottom. And indeed, it did hold its stout pectoral fins away from the sides of its body, and it was not hard to imagine that had it been vigorous, it could have used them to help it move over the rocky sea floor of its true environment. What is more, it was also clear that, mechanically, such fins would be of real assistance out of water as in it, had the fish, like its ancient forebears, been living in shallow water and become stranded (Attenborough 1979, Khalaf 1987).

Prof. Dr. Norman Ali Khalaf-von Jaffa infront of Museum Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Photo by: Nora Norman Ali Khalaf. 06.01.2013.

References and Internet Websites

Attenborough, David (1979). Life on Earth. Collins, London, Glasgow, Sydney, Auckland, Toronto, Johannesburg, and the British Broadcasting Corporation, London. 319 pp. 

Khalaf, Norman Ali Bassam (Zoology, Second Year) (1982). Samak Al-Coelacanth (The Coelacanth Fish). Al-Biology Magazine. Number 2, February 1982, Biological Society, Kuwait University, State of Kuwait. pp.14-15. (In Arabic).           http://issuu.com/dr-normanalibassamkhalaf/docs/coelacanth_fish_al_biology_magazine                    

Khalaf, Norman Ali Bassam (1987). The Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) in the Science and Natural History Museum, State of Kuwait. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 15. Fifth Year, July 1987, Thul Qi’dah 1407 AH. Rilchingen-Hanweiler, Federal Republic of Germany. pp. 1-8.   http://quastenflosser.webs.com/coelacanthkuwait.htm                                             

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali Bassam (2005). Der Komoren-Quastenflosser (Latimeria chalumnae) und der Manado-Quastenflosser (Latimeria menadoensis). Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. Number 38, Twenty Third Year. February 2005. Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. pp. 1-8.   http://quastenflosser.webs.com/                                                                                    

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (Gründer) (seit Juni 2005). Der Quastenflosser: Coelacanth Latimeria Yahoo! Deutschland Group.         http://de.groups.yahoo.com/group/Quastenflosser/                                                  

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (2005). Aquatica Arabica. An Aquatic Scientific Journey in Palestine, Arabia and Europe between 1980 - 2005 / Aquatica Arabica. Eine Aquatische Wissenschaftliche Reise in Palästina, Arabien und Europa zwischen 1980 - 2005. ISBN 3-00-014835-3. Erste Auflage / First Edition, August 2005: 376 Seiten / Pages. Self-Publisher: Norman Ali Khalaf, Rilchingen-Hanweiler, Bundesrepublik Deutschland & Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. http://dr-norman-ali-khalaf-books.webs.com/aquaticaarabica.htm                   

Khalaf-von Jaffa, Norman Ali (2005). The Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) in the Science and Natural History Museum, State of Kuwait. In : Aquatica Arabica. An Aquatic Scientific Journey in Palestine, Arabia and Europe between 1980 - 2005 / Aquatica Arabica. Eine Aquatische Wissenschaftliche Reise in Palästina, Arabien und Europa zwischen 1980 - 2005. ISBN 3-00-014835-3. Erste Auflage / First Edition, August 2005, pp. 110-117. Self-Publisher: Norman Ali Khalaf, Rilchingen-Hanweiler, Bundesrepublik Deutschland & Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.                                                                                                                     

Khalaf, Dr. Norman Ali (Zoologist) (2011). A note on the Coelacanth of Kuwait. Readers’ Letters, National Geographic Al Arabiya Magazine. April 2011, Volume 2, Number 7, pp. 8. (In Arabic).           http://www.flickr.com/photos/50022881@N00/10122383976/                       

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2013). † Coelacanthus sharjah Khalaf, 2013 : A New Coelacanth Fish Fossil Species from Sharjah Natural History and Botanical Museum, Sharjah, Emirate of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 106, October 2013, Thu Al Hijja 1434 AH. pp. 18–38.  Dubai and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.        http://quastenflosser.webs.com/coelacanthussharjah.htm                                    

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2013). Taxon Profile: Species Sharjah Coelacanth Coelacanthus sharjah Khalaf, 2013. BioLib. Biological Library.              http://www.biolib.cz/en/taxon/id1068520/                                                

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2013).  Sharjah Coelacanth († Coelacanthus sharjah Khalaf, 2013). EOL. Encyclopedia of Life.              http://eol.org/collections/95987/                                                            

Khalaf-Sakerfalke von Jaffa, Prof. Dr. Sc. Norman Ali Bassam Ali Taher (2014). A  Coelacanth (Latimeria chalumnae) Model at the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn, Germany. Gazelle: The Palestinian Biological Bulletin. ISSN 0178 - 6288. Number 111, March 2014, Jumada Al Oula 1435 AH. pp. 1–9.  Dubai and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates.            http://quastenflosser.webs.com/coelacanthmuseumkoenig.htm

Pouyaud, Laurent; Wirjoatmodjo, Soetikno; Rachmatika, Ike; Tjakrawidjaja, Agus; Hadiaty, Renny; Hadie, Wartono (1999). Une nouvelle espèce de coelacanthe. Preuves génétiques et morphologiques. A new species of coelacanth. Comptes rendus de l'Académie des sciences - Série III - Sciences de la vie / Life Sciences - 1999, 322, 261-267.  www.elsevier.fr/html/news/cras3mars99/pouyaud.html                                   

Smith, J.L.B. (1939). A surviving fish of the order Actinistia. Trans. R. Soc. S. Afr. 27: 47-50.                                                                                                                                               

Smith, J.L.B. (1940). A living coelacanthid fish from South Africa. Trans. R. Soc. S. Afr. 28: 1-106.                                                                                                                                       

Wikipedia. Museum Koenig. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_Koenig

Wikipedia. Museum Koenig. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Museum_Koenig

Wikipedia. Coelacanth.          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coelacanth       

Wikipedia. Indonesian Coelacanth.         http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indonesian_coelacanth                                  

Wikipedia. West Indian Ocean Coelacanth.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Indian_Ocean_coelacanth                 

Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig. http://www.museumkoenig.de/