Latimeria chalumnae, more commonly known as the coelacanth (SEE-lee-uh-kanth), was thought to be extinct until a biologist identified one off the coast of South Africa in 1939.

Painting by William Bond, National Geographic
  • On February 16, 1939, experts identified a coelacanth, a fish thought to have gone extinct 66 million years ago. Museum curator Marjorie Courtney-Latimer and Professor James Leonard Brierley Smith identified a coelacanth as the fish Courtney-Latimer pulled from a net off the coast of East London, South Africa. 
    Coelacanths live in deep reefs and volcanic caves under the seas around southeastern Africa and Indonesia. Their isolated habitat and behavior kept people from discovering them for a long time. 
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    biologist Noun

    scientist who studies living organisms.

    cave Noun

    underground chamber that opens to the surface. Cave entrances can be on land or in water.

    coast Noun

    edge of land along the sea or other large body of water.

    Encyclopedic Entry: coast
    curator Noun

    person who designs, assembles, and manages an exhibit at a museum or other cultural center.

    extinct Adjective

    no longer existing.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    isolate Verb

    to set one thing or organism apart from others.

    ocean Noun

    large body of salt water that covers most of the Earth.

    Encyclopedic Entry: ocean
    oceanographer Noun

    person who studies the ocean.

    reef Noun

    a ridge of rocks, coral, or sand rising from the ocean floor all the way to or near the ocean's surface.

    Encyclopedic Entry: reef
    volcanic Adjective

    having to do with volcanoes.