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In 1938 an ancient looking fish was caught off the coast of South Africa. Nearly two metres long, with limb-like fins and armour-like scales it was identified as a coelacanth and immediately attracted the world's attention since its closest relatives were thought to have died out 70 million years ago.
Coelacanths were thought to be related to the kinds of fishes that gave rise to amphibians, reptiles, birds and eventually mammals; in other words it was regarded as a missing link between water and land dwelling vertebrates. More surprises came later when a second species of living coelacanth was found in Indonesia. This raised questions of how and when such similar species came to be separated by the enormity of the Indian Ocean.
Coelacanth: Portrait of a Living Fossil traces the history of coelacanth research and places it within the modern view of vertebrate evolution.
"Coelacanth existence may hang by a thread, but Forey's masterly book has woven it into a colorful tapestry that must have been tricky to stitch together, given the wide range of subject matter. This book is completely different from his previous, highly technical volume on coelacanths (Forey 1998), and I recommend it to anyone interested in coelacanth research, as well as historians of science wishing to stay abreast of the colorful story of "old fourlegs"."
- John G. Maisey, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History