Rare Coelacanth seen off KZN South Coast

By Se-Anne Rall Time of article published Nov 28, 2019

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Durban - Fifty years ago, a young Mike Fraser told his childhood friend that one day he would see a Coelacanth.

The KwaZulu-Natal diver recently fulfilled his childhood dream and ticked the rare sighting off his bucket list.

The sighting was made at a depth of 69metres along the reef at Pumula, off the South Coast.

The Coelacanth are prehistoric fish, known to have been living around 400million years ago, but were thought to have gone extinct, until one was accidentally caught by a fishing trawler off East London in 1938.

The Coelacanth, colloquially known among divers as “old four legs”, is thought to have been extinct outside the Sodwana Marine Protected Area.

Speaking to The Mercury, Fraser said a friend had booked a dive to search for Coelacanth in Sodwana, but their permits did not arrive. The dive was cancelled.

“There are only 33 Coelacanths that have been identified in Sodwana and they are a protected marine species.”

Fraser said they arranged a dive trip on the South Coast at Pumula last week.

“We arranged a trip and had a lovely dive. We didn’t see anything and the next day we tried at a different place,” he said.

Fraser said they dived along the reef and swam along the bottom with his son in the lead.

“The next minute, I heard my son shouting and thought he had spotted Megladon. I expected this huge shark to come swimming past. Bruce was also shouting loudly and shining his torch down. There below us was the Coelacanth. I could not believe it and thought I was imagining it,” he said.

Fraser said while aboard the boat just minutes before the dive, he kept telling Henderson to take his camera along and after the sighting, he was glad they had recorded the moment.

“We must have spent about five minutes just watching it. It was such a serendipitous moment. This is the only Coelacanth seen by divers outside the Sodwana area. It has generated a huge amount of scientific interest. This is something that I have dreamt of all my life,” he said.

Fraser said after the dive, he received a call from a lifelong friend who reminded him of a conversation that they had when they were just 14 years old.

“We had been sitting on the beach at Pumula, staring out at the horizon and we said to each other, there must be Coelacanth in these waters. We had no idea that 50 years later, one of us would actually see one in the flesh,” he said.

Fraser and his family are avid divers and have often assisted international research companies with marine findings and supplied photographs for marine journals.

Mossie Carstens, Mike Fraser, Alan Fraser, Bruce Henderson, Ben Henderson and Marc Dukes.

Senior Scientist at the South African Association for Marine Biological Research, Dr Sean Fennessy, said there was just one species of Coelacanth in SA.

“It is a very rare sighting, especially for scuba divers, as they are normally found much deeper and are occasionally seen by deep-water research submersibles.

“It is probably the shallowest live natural observation of this species as they have not been seen by divers in SA this far south. The other sightings have all been in the iSimangaliso Wetland Park off the Zululand coast. It is possible that there could be more found in deeper waters,” he said.

Fennessy said this species was also found in Mozambique, Tanzania and Comoros but were rare.

The Mercury

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