Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Ancient Creature of the Deep

Tonight's episode of Nova dealt with the coelacanth, that mysterious creature of the deep thought to be extinct until one was discovered in South Africa in the 1930s. I have been a fan of the coelacanth ever since I first learned about it in elementary school. Nova dealt briefly with the social implications of the coelacanth, which I found very intriguing. The internal organs of the first coelacanth were discarded before the fish was positively identified by Dr. J.L.B. Smith. Smith made it his life's work to find another coelacanth and spread leaflets up the East African coast promising a reward for any fisherman who can haul in a coelcanth so he could begin dissecting the animal and seeing if it really was the so-called missing link. When he received word of a coelacanth found in the remote Comoros Islands in 1952, he knew that the only way to get the fish back to South Africa for successful dissection was to charter an airplane. His request eventually reached Prime Minister D.F. Malan, who approved a military charter to retrieve the fish. Malan was an ordained minister and a professed creationist who had any number of reasons to deny Smith's request, but in the end, he calculated that national pride was at stake at allowed Smith to risk an international incident and go to the then French-controlled Comoros Islands to retrieve the fish. Since then, many more coelacanths have been captured and dissected and scientists have learned a great deal about evolution from this so-called living fossil, but Smith's pioneering work led the way and captured the imagination of the world. Malan was an ultra-nationalist and one of the architects of South Africa's apartheid program. If he was able to see that advancing the cause of science was good for his country, despite the fact that it conflicted with some of his personal beliefs, perhaps there is still hope for our political leaders.

4 comments:

Julia Elvarado said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
weblogz said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
MDS said...

I wonder if there are any species we currently think are extinct that will one day appear. Perhaps the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

dhodge said...

As my Dad once said: world war III will be fought with nuclear bombs, world war IV will be fought with sticks and stones, and world wars V-VII will be fought by dinosaurs.