Rare Indonesian coelacanth caught

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An Indonesian fisherman has caught an exceptionally rare species of coelacanth off the island of Sulawesi.

Justinus Lahama caught the fossil fish, which is only the second of its kind be caught, two months ago while fishing off Manado on the northern end of Sulawesi, reports the BBC.

The Indonesian coelacanth, Latimeria menadoensis, was described in 1999 and was first discovered in 1997 off the island of Manado Tua off northern Sulawesi.

Green eyes and legsLahama told the AFP news agency that the fish was enormous: "It has phosphorescent green eyes and legs. If I had pulled it up during the night, I would have been afraid and I would have thrown it back."

The coelacanth was taken back to the port, where it spent its final hours living in a pool outside a restaurant before being frozen and passed on to scientists.

Dr Peter Forey, of the Natural History Museum, who is an acknowledged expert on coelacanths, told the BBC that the find was significant because it confirms that the Manado area is a genuine location for this coelacanth's population.

Distinct speciesThe Indonesian coelacanth is a distinct species, and is believed to be closely related to the Comoros coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, which was first discovered off Africa's Comoros Islands in the western Indian Ocean in 1938.

While several hundred specimens of Latimeria chalumnae have since been caught off the Comoros Islands, near the coast of East Africa, only two specimens of Latimeria menadoensis are known.

Two other specimens of Latimeria menadoensis were sighted elsewhere in the Celebes Sea by a submersible operating a couple of hundred mile southwest of Manado Tua.

The two fish observed measured 120cm/4' and 140cm/4'10" long and were swimming at a depth of 155m in a deep carbonate cave in water of 17.8-20.1 degrees C.

Forey told the BBC: "The fact that the two populations are separated by this enormous gap of thousands of miles begs the question of how long ago and why they separated.

"Estimates from the genetic fingerprinting carried out on the fish caught in 1998 suggest that they separated about four to five million years ago, however if you look at the geology of the oceans, it suggests that they should have separated about 30 million years ago.

"More sequences taken from this new fish will help us to calibrate these estimates."

Picture: Latimeria chalumnae at the Natural History Museum, London. Creative Commons Licence.