Shark hunters have rediscovered a population of fish that predates dinosaurs that many believed to be extinct. The “four-legged fossil fish” known as the coelacanth, has been found alive and well in the West Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar, according to Mongabay News.
Their re-emergence is partly because of fishermen using gillnets in their shark-hunting expeditions.
As they continue to target sharks for their fins and oil these deep-sea nets can reach where the fish gathers, around 328 to 492 feet below the water’s surface.
The species, which dates back 420 million years, was thought to have been extinct until 1938.
But the conservation news site said scientists were shocked to find a member of the “Latimeria chalumnae” species still alive, with its eight fins, a specific spotting pattern on the scales and huge bodies.
A recent study in the SA Journal of Science indicated that the coelacanths might face a new threat to survival with the uptick in shark hunting, which began booming in the 1980s.
Researchers wrote in the paper: “The jarifa gillnets used to catch sharks are a relatively new and more deadly innovation as they are large and can be set in deep water,” the researchers noted in their paper.
“They fear that the coelacanths are now at risk for ‘exploitation’, particularly in Madagascar.
“There is little doubt that large mesh jarifa gillnets is now the biggest threat to the survival of coelacanths in Madagascar.”
The lead author of the study Andrew Cooke told Mongabay News he and the others were shocked at the increase of accidental captures of the creature.
Newsweek reported he said: “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,”
Their study suggests that Madagascar is the “epicentre” of various coelacanth species and says vital conservation steps are taken to preserve the ancient species.
But Madagascan government marine researcher Paubert Tsimanaoraty Mahatante told the site he is not concerned with the species becoming a hot commodity among hunters.
He reportedly said: “Catching a coelacanth is totally uncommon and people are in some ways even afraid to catch something so uncommon. So I don’t think that coelacanths are being targeted deliberately,”
But Cooke and his team want to continue educating people about the unique species based on around 40 years of research.
The paper in the SA Journal of Science provides is first comprehensive account of Madagascar coelacanths and shows the existence of a regionally important population.