Second breeding group of Coelacanths discovered

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A team of Japanese scientists have discovered a second breeding group of hundreds of Coelacanths off the coast of south east Africa.

Over a period of years a number of the fish have turned up off the coast of Tanzania. Prior to this expedition there was thought to be only one actual breeding population of the 'living fossil', Latimeria chalumnae, to be found off the coast of the Comoro Island off Africa, with strays venturing further afield to Tanzania, Madagascar, Mozambique and Kenya.

However, the team from the Tokyo Institute of Technology now believe that some of these fish are actually from a completely separate group that has probably existed for over 200,000 years without coming into contact with the original population.

Prof. Norihiro Okada and his colleagues analysed genes of 21 Coelacanths caught off sites around Tanga in northern Tanzania and compared them with the genome of two Coelacanths from the Comores. The results showed the fish belong to a population genetically distinct from that found off the coast of the Comoros Islands, nearly 1000 km away.

The researchers say that two groups probably separated anywhere from 200,000 to two million years ago.

Coelacanths were rediscovered in the 1938 after being thought to have gone extinct 80 million years ago. Until the 1990s it was thought that there was just a single population off the coast of the Comores until there was discovered to be a second distinct species off Sulawesi in Indonesia.

The team now worry that the small Tanzanian population may be vulnerable to genetic bottlenecks, and as such should be subject to conservation measures. They are now supporting the Tanzanian government in measures to put in place a large national marine park (The Coelacanth Marine Park) along the northern coastal region of Tanzania.

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