Story at a glance:

  • West Indian Ocean coelacanths are rare fishes that are endangered.
  • Their existence was unknown until 1938, but a boom in China’s demand in shark products has put them at risk.
  • Jarifa gill-nets are used to capture these deep water fish.

Shark hunters are unwittingly catching an endangered ancient species of fish called the West Indian Ocean coelacanth.

Coelacanths are large marine fishes that have three lobed tail fins and white spots uniquely scattered throughout their bodies. Until scientists discovered them in 1938, they were thought to be extinct. 


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They can be found near the Comoro Islands in the Indian Ocean and off Sulawesi, Indonesia. However, due to the continued interest in shark fins and oil in the Chinese marketplace, fishers in southwestern Madagascar are posing a threat to the coelacanths’ lives as they set gill-nets in deeper waters called jarifa gill-nets.

The Western Indian Ocean species, Latimeria chalumnae, has been classified as critically endangered by the IUCN, while a similar Indonesian counterpart (L. menadoensis) is classified as vulnerable. 

“When we looked into this further, we were astounded [by the numbers caught]… even though there has been no proactive process in Madagascar to monitor or conserve coelacanths,” said Andrew Cooke, a lead author in the new study in the SA Journal of Science that reviews the data for specimens, according to Mongabay.

Some fishermen have admitted that they were able to catch between seven and 10 coelacanths in a year’s span.

Michael Bruton, a researcher who wrote entries of coelacanths being caught, reported 34 catches off Madagascar, including several specimens held privately or in museums.


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Published on May 13, 2021