Indonesian Coelacanth -Rajah Laut (Sea King)

I have been trying to write about this interesting subject since my first trip to Manado in 2014 when I visited this interesting “City of Blessings” and the famous dive sites in Bunaken Marine National Park with my family

We were on our way to the the Manado Airport, Sam Ratulangi, for our departure back to Singapore when I noticed an airport lounge named “Coelacanth Lounge” ( pronounce “see la kanth” lounge ) that  really got me wondering and asking  more about the origin of this name.  As this is a name of a rare marine creature that was once thought to be extinct by scientists.

It was a subject that was of my interest during  my pre-university days when I read about this ancient and unusual fish with its unique morphology and locomotion in water with its lobed-fins and moving like terrestrial animals, like a horse trotting in slow motion. (At the time, I was thinking, was  this the  “missing link” between marine and land creatures?)  It was then thought by scientists that this fish  was extinct more than 65 million years ago, until one was caught in 1938, off the east coast of Africa!

I later found out from speaking with the dive resort GM, Martinus Wawanda , that this fish was recently discovered in the Manado marine conservation area, Bunaken National Park.  Wow ! This got me all  excited about this subject again!   It was 59 years after the discovery of the Indian Ocean Coelacanth in Comoro Islands, near Madagascar, that another specimen of Coelacanth was discovered in 1997 in Manado Tua. When a second specimen was caught in 1988 in Manado Bay, it  finally confirmed the  existence of this fish in this region of Indonesia. This was a major scientific discovery and huge historic find !

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Map showing Bunaken National Park, a Marine Conservation Area and dive resorts and dive sites marked.  Three sites where Coelacanth fish were found were also in this marine park.

After more searches on the websites and readings, I found out that it was only in 1997, when an accidental sighting by Arnaz and Mark Erdmann that this historic fish was discovered in this part of the world in North Sulawesi. Mark Erdmann, a post doctoral fellow who was doing coral research and his wife Arnaz were on their honeymoon trip travelling in Indonesia when they found this unusual fish in a market on the island of Manado Tua.

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Flying into Manado City you will see this majestic mountain, Manado Tua. Located just to the north of Bunaken Island.

Mark took a photo of this strange looking fish and posted it on his website. However, it was not another year in 1988 that a similar fish was caught and that was to confirm that this fish actually exists in this region of the world. Since 1988, and as of 2011, 5 more Coelacanth fish had been caught on three sites in Bunaken National Park ,North Sulawesi, Indonesia. It is now confirmed through DNA testings and analysis that this is a distinct species of Coelacanth different from that found in the Comoro Island, near Madagascar, Africa.

But for most divers, there is not a lot interest in this ancient fish or there is not much publicity on this or perhaps this is a deep sea fish found in depths ranging from 150m to 200m and at temperature range from 17 to 20 degree C ? This Coelacanth fish is a slow moving fish and lives in rocky slopes and caves. A large deep sea fish, it can grow up to 2 metres and weigh up to 80kgs to 100 kgs although on average it is about 30 kgs and can live more than 20 over years (or it can even live up to 80 years according to some reports).

This fish belongs to the genus Latimeria. The Indonesia Coelacanth is officially named Latimeria manadoensis in 1999 (to be checked). The Indonesian name for this fish is “Rajah Laut” or “King of the Sea” ! The Indonesian Coelacanth is brownish grey in colour with white specks while the Indian Ocean Coelacanth, Latimeria chulumnae  is bluish with white specks.

This fish has been a source of fascination ever since its discovery  as it is one of the closest living relatives to the first creature to walk on land. Both species under the genus Latimeria are considered  endangered.  As species of this genus is member of an ancient lineage that has been around for 360 million years.

In April 1999, the Indonesian Coelacanth is officially and legally classified as a national treasure and protected by Indonesian law.

However, habitat conservation problems for Coelacanth are mainly the same for deep sea fishes and remain a challenge. As this species is endangered, it must be properly protected. By sharing this post I hope more people and divers will come to know more about this ancient and scientifically important marine creature.

My interest in Coelacanth was awaken from my visits to Manado and recent development and research surrounding this fish and because of its historical and scientific importance.

I realised that interest in this ancient fish is more than I perceived and  even  far from the shore of Indonesia as  when I was in Japan recently, I found a nice tea cup with the Coelacanth fish motif beautifully painted on it. I was also thrilled by it!  So I bought it and include this cup in my ” Coelacanth Fish Collection” !

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A Japanese tea cup with a Coelacanth motif painted on it bought in Tokyo, Japan.

And at dive sites in Bunaken, you will occasionally meet a lady on a fishing boat selling souvenir t-shirts and other knick knacks. I found this fridge magnet of a Coelacanth on one of the dives and added it to my collection.

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Fridge magnet of the Indonesian Coelacanth and location where this fish was found in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.
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