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LIVING FOSSIL by Keith Stewart Thomson

LIVING FOSSIL

The Story of the Coelacanth

By Keith Stewart Thomson

Pub Date: May 13th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02956-5
Publisher: Norton

 Thomson, a specialist in prehistoric fish and the director of Philadelphia's Academy of Natural Sciences, hooks his readers with this true tale of a fossil come to life. Something's fishy hereor so thought ichthyologists in 1938 upon hearing reports that a coelacanth, a ``very large, prickly- scaled, oily, sluggish...sharp-toothed fish'' believed extinct for 80 million years, had been found alive in Africa. But the rumors proved true. Since then, perhaps 200 other coelacanths have been snared using lines baited with tuna or flying fish, always at night and only in the Comoro Islands off Madagascar. Thomson catches the tension of the initial 1938 discovery, as a provincial museum curator and an eccentric ichthyologist find themselves at the center of ``one of the most important zoological discoveries of the century.'' He brings us up-to-date on subsequent developments, including his own role in decoding the fish's biochemistry. He details this curious creature's inner workings, as well as its anatomy and means of locomotion and reproduction, and puzzles over why some ``fossil'' animals survive into modern times. Under his lucid eye, the coelacanth becomes a briny Chinese puzzle box, offering mysteries and ironies galore. For example: this living fossil may soon become extinct through overfishingthe first species in history to be exterminated by scientists. Mother Ocean deliversas does her latest scribe. (Copious illustrations)