"Identification of the coelacanth 50 years ago"
||Michel: 622-625, 14
Scott: 606-609, 609a. Stanley Gibbons: 532-535, 536
Yvert: 527-530, 14 UPU: N/A
|Stamps in set
|| 6c Latimeria chalumnae, in its natural
30c Prof J L B Smith and Dr Manorie Courtenay-Latimer with a Coelacanth
40c The Institute of marine life research
50c GEO two-man submarine
|Size (width x height)
||FDC x2 MS x1
||14.25 x 14
Fifty years ago, on 20 February 1939, the stunning announcement was
made that a Coelacanth had been caught off the Chalumna River mouth
near East London (a city in RSA, see it's location on FDC
). At that time, the Coelacanth was thought to be
extinct for nearly 70 million years.
The drama commenced on 22 December 1938, when Capt H Goosen, skipper of
the trawler Nenrine, brought ashore a peculiar metallic-blue,
heavily-scaledfish with fins resembling legs. Miss Marjorie
Courtenay-Latimer, Curator o the East London Museum, was informed of
the strangie catch, but was unable to identify the fish, which measured
1,5 m in length and weighed 57 kg. Alter it had been treated and
mounted by a taxidermist, Mr R Center, a description and sketch were
sent to Prof J L B Smith of hodes University, at Grahamstown. The
description and sketch resembled palaeozoic fossils, also called
Coelacanths, and alter detailed examination of the fish on 16 ebruary
1939, Prof Smith was able to declare that it was indeed a Coelacanth.
As a tribute to Miss Courtenay-Latimer it was named Latimeria
chalumnae. The discovery of the Coelacanth was described as the
biological find of the century and the event was heralded with banner
reports world-wide. Prof Smith's formal descriptions of the fish in the
British joumal Nature and in Transactions of Royal Society of South
Africa also aroused new scientific and other interest. The scientific
significance of the Coelacanth lies in the fact that it is the longest
surviving species of a group of fishes which became extinct millions of
years ago. Furthermore, it is the closest living relative of
Rhipidistia, which emerged from water onto land and which may have
given rise to higher forms of life.
The discovery allowed scientists to broaden available information which
had previously been gleaned from fossils only.
Prof Smith held the opinion that the sea near East London was not the
normal habitat of the Coelancanth, but in fact the tropical westem
Indian Ocean. After a search of 14 years together with his wife
Margaret, a second Coelacanth was discovered off the Comoro Islands at
the close of 1952. This was considered so important that the then Prime
Minister, Dr D F Malan, made available a military aircraft to fetch the
fish which is now on display at the JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology
in Grahamstown. More than 150 Coelancanths have since been caught off
the Comores, but not anywhere else. They can be viewed in museums
throug the world, including South Africa, where the original specimen
is preserved in the East London Museum, the second specimen in
Grahamstown and one each in Pretoria and Pietermaritzburg.
After landing the third Coelacanth, Prof Smith published a book
entitled "Old Fourlegs, The story of the Coelacanth". It has seen three
English editions and was also published in nine other languages,
including Russian and Japanese.
The 6c stamp depicts a live Coelacanth, Latimeria chalumnae, in its
The 30c stamp portrays Prof J L B Smith and Dr Manorie
Courtenay-Latimer with a Coelacanth.
The JLB Smith Institute of Ichthyology was established n Grahamstown in
1946 and since 1977, has been accommodated in the modem building
The 40c stamp. The Institute glays a leading role in marine fish
research and in Coelacanth conservation.
The 50c stamp features the GEO two-man submarine which is being used to
study the livigg Coelacanth under water.
Scientists are also investigating current conservation measures
regarding the species because of possible threats to its survival.
Official FDC, inside
privately produced, by Philatelic Foundation of RSA,
Inside text of FDC
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