Monday, 8 November 2010

Aussies in London #3

Among the many fascinating animal specimens on display at London's Natural History Museum are some rather famous extinct - and not-so-extinct - exhibits. These include the Coelacanth (pronounced see-la-kanth) , a prehistoric fish long thought to be extinct - until fishermen pulled one up in their nets off the coast of South Africa in 1938.

Ever since that fateful day, naturalists have clamoured for further proof, and a firsthand glimpse, of the enigmatic 'king of the sea'. In 2008 journalist Samantha Weinberg went in search of her own firsthand encounter, but along the way documented the deaths of several other would-be Coelacanth hunters. Prompting the thought 'was the Coelacanth cursed'?

The strange-looking fish was thought to have been extinct for more than 65 million years, which was believed to be 'the missing link' that marked the moment when animal life first left the ocean for the land.

Previously, the Coelacanth's existence had only ever been known from fossil records that showed the species had lived as long as 400 million years ago - 200 million years before dinosaurs had first walked the Earth.

Early naturalists, who had studied the fossil records, had long been puzzled and intrigued by this creature, with its lobed, limb-like fins. But it was only with the publication of Darwin's Origin Of the Species, in 1859, and his theory of evolution, that its true significance first became apparent - here was a fish indeed capable of walking out of the sea!

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