SAIAB News » Gombessa Coelacanth Expedition

On the 5th April 2013 at 20h30, the diver and naturalist Laurent Ballesta, accompanied by a team of deep-sea divers, researchers from the South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity (SAIAB) and six scientists from the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle (MNHN - the National Museum of Natural History in Paris) and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS - National Center for Scientific Research) in France, left for South Africa for 40 days of diving to find a mythical animal: the coelacanth.

Known in that area as  'gombessa', this peaceful 2 m long giant, thought to be extinct for 70 million years and rediscovered alive in 1938, is considered the greatest zoological discovery of the twentieth century:

- It has characteristics representative of the transtition of fishes to the first early land vertebrates with four legs
- It is, with its lobe-like fins and primitive lung, a living and unexpected relic of the sea some 370 million years ago.

The coelacanth unleashed heated debates for nearly a century between creationists and scientists. This is probably the wild animal that has been the most deliberated in the world, yet we know almost nothing about its behaviour.

As a endangered species living more than 100 meters deep, very few direct observations have been made so far. The Gombessa Expedition is the result of  two years of planning: scientific, logistical and personnel. Once in contact with the living coelacanth, the expedition will make new scientific observations and experiments.

To interact with this living legend, Laurent Ballesta and his team of divers will explore the Jesser Canyon caves every day. At a depth of 120m, every minute at the bottom is repaid by long hours of decompression before divers can rise to the surface.

The expedition will implement scientific protocols designed by the research team at the NMHN and CNRS, headed by Prof. Gaël Clément, a paleontologist at the Natural History Museum, and South African biologists Kerry Sink and Angus Paterson of SAIAB.

Read the original French press release here

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