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The Living Fossil Fish, an Animated Life science story

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In 1938, South African museum curator and naturalist Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer came across a strange blue fin poking out of a pile of fish. With its fleshy, lobed fins and its tough armored scales, the coelacanth did not look like any other fish that exists today. The coelacanth belongs to a lineage that has remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years—earning it the description of a “living fossil.”

Charles Darwin coined the term in On the Origin of Species in 1859. And it fits the coelacanth, pronounced see-luh-kanth, a now-rare bottom-dwelling fish that, prior to Courtenay-Latimer’s discovery, was thought to have gone extinct over 65 million years ago.

Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer
coelacanth
From Sweet Fern Productions, a collaboration between documentary filmmaker Sharon Shattuck and science journalist Flora Lichtman, this is Animated Life: The Living Fossil Fish (2015) for HHMI: Biointeractive. The paper puppetry short shares a pivotal moment in science, made possible by Courtenay-Latimer’s vigilance in documenting this remarkable fish.

The Living Fossil Fish
Read more about the coelacanth at Smithsonian Ocean and Wired.

Follow this with Shelf Life: Six Ways To Prepare a Coelacanth. Then watch more Animated Life short films.

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