Search for African Coelacanths
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Search for African Coelacanths by Susan Bahnick Jones
A two-frame display division exhibit shown at COMPEX 2015 (Non-competitive show, Arlington Heights, Illinois, USA) and
NTSS 2015 (the National Topical Stamp Show of the American Topical Association, Portland, Oregon, USA, where it was awarded
a Silver Medal and the Women Exhibitor's Award ).
display exhibit tells
the story of a rare and endangered
fish known as the coelacanth (SEE-luh-kanth). Coelacanths
disappeared from the fossil record
about the same time as the dinosaurs. In 1938 scientists thought they
extinct. They also thought the fish might represent a missing link
and the first land vertebrates.
The exhibit spans roughly 150 years - from the naming of the first fossil
coelacanth in 1835 through discovery of a living coelacanth off the
coast of South Africa in 1938 and ending with South Africa’s celebration of the
anniversary of the find in 1989. The 50th
anniversary was selected as the endpoint for the exhibit because it coincides with a major shift
in coelacanth research technology - from divers using scuba gear at
relatively shallow depths to scientists diving in submersibles to the deeper
waters inhabited by coelacanths.
The exhibit focuses on the African coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae
The exhibit is organized chronologically.
1 Viewing the Fossil Record opens with the coelacanths’
fossil record to explain why a living coelacanth created such a world-wide stir in 1938.
- Section 2 Finding the First Living Coelacanths - tells of the
discovery of the first living coelacanth off the coast of South Africa and discovery of
the second living specimen 14 years later in the Comoro Islands.
3 Converging on the Comores traces the subsequent 35-year
search to find and photograph coelacanths in their natural habitat.
- Section 4
Celebrating Success opens with various South African philatelic
celebrations of anniversaries of the discovery of a living coelacanth. It closes with a summary of
the state of scientific knowledge of coelacanths in 1989.
5 Expanding our Knowledge
provides a brief epilog that updates events since 1989.
There are 112 elements in the exhibit: 93%
philatelic and 7% non-philatelic. Philatelic elements
include stamps, souvenir sheets, first day and commercial covers, maxi
cards, cancellations, and proofs. Non-philatelic items include currency, decals, a
photograph, a magazine cover, a letter, a phone card, and earrings.Noteworthy Elements:
Section 2 - Pierre Bequet signed proof.
Section 4 - Hand-written
letter by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, discoverer of the first living
coelacanth, to South African to stamp collector G. Gailey, transmitting
two signed FDCs and expressing her emphatic views of the importance of her
discovery and of South Africa’s 50th anniversary
Coelacanth Website: www.dinofish.com – contains timelines and results of research
expeditions. A good place to start for a quick chronological overview
of events covered by the exhibit.
A Fish Caught in Time,
Samantha Weinberg, HarperCollins 2000: general overview of the topics
in the exhibit – all in an easy-to-read style. The most up-to-date
for the coelacanth story.
Any feedback, comments or even complaints
are welcome: email@example.com (you
can email me on ENglish, DEutsch, or RUssian)