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East London - Coelacanth

Coelacanth

"I picked away at the layers of slime to reveal the most beautiful fish I had ever seen....It was five foot long, a pale, mauvy blue with faint flecks of whitish spots; it had an iridescent silver-blue-green sheen all over. It was covered in hard scales, and it had four limb-like fins and a strange puppy-dog tail."


These are the words Marjorie Courtney-Latimer's used to describe her first sighting of the Coelacanth on the deck of Captain Hendrik Goosen fishing trawler when he docked in East London after been fishing off the Chalumna River near Kayser's Beach on the 22nd December 1938. He had contacted Marjorie, the then curator at East London's small museum, knowing she would be interested in this very strange looking fish, she was, but been a specialist in birds not fish could not identify it, not suprisingly as nobody in the world had ever had the opportunity to try.


Marjorie immediately contacted her friend Icthyologist Dr J.L.B Smith, at Rhodes University sending him a description and drawing of the specimen but it was only on the 16th February that Dr Smith manged to get to East London who identified the fish as a coelacanth and named it Latimeria chalumnae in recognition of Marjorie's essential part in its discovery.
The speciment is now on display at the East London Museum.

 

East London Museum Coelacanth
Coelacanth in East London Museum

 

Image of Marjorie Courtney-Latimer Letter
 
Image of Marjorie Courtney-Latimer Letter
 
 

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