A primitive type of fish, it was thought to have been extinct for 70 million years until one was caught in 1938 (see below).
It's a living fossil, a relative of the lobe-finned fishes that evolved into land creatures. Among the intriguing characteristics of this fish:
- They are vertebrates without a backbone. Although we commonly think the two are synonymous, membership in Vertebrata does not require vertebrae - the coelacanth's simple fluid-filled notochord suffices for membership in the club.
- They have a tri-lobe tail, one more lobe than "normal" fishes.
- They are viviparous, giving birth to live young, like some species of shark. Modern fishes are oviparous (egg laying).
The coelacanth is endangered due to its very small population base. It doesn't help that the species' unlikely longevity works against it - the notochord fluid is said by some to prevent aging. No one has tested this clinically, of course, but it's highly unlikely.
Nonetheless, the idea of eternal youth has allure almost as ancient as the coelacanth itself. Imagine if it were true! Someday there might be huge fish farms of coelacanth. Some hideous factory operation would drain their notochord fluid into tiny jars, to be sold at cosmetic counters for exorbitant amounts.