Elon and the Coelacanth

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A coelacanth with a diver for scale. Image: The Econimist Online

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Elon and the Coelacanth

By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News

The room is large and quiet. Standing in the dark, I look through the thick glass at the illuminated coelacanth lazily swimming past me. The fish, a prehistoric-looking beast about 6 feet long, was apparently oblivious to my presence. Its gills slowly open and close as it turns away from me. I am about 10 years old and my small frame is maybe a third of the size and weight of this fierce-looking creature. Beside me, Elon Musk stands quietly watching. He seems tall and unsmiling. Although he too watches the creature, he is disinterested. He says nothing yet I feel his impatience. He wants to get going – to do something, anything. At that moment he was idle and idle was not in his nature.

“Why would you want to go to other planets when we don’t even fully understand the one we have?” I asked. He did not reply – he simply turned on his heel and walked toward the illuminated hallway and the doors beyond.

I was left in the darkness with my thoughts and the massive, ancient fish – and that is all I remember from my dream about Elon and the Coelacanth.

When I was about ten years old I went to the Vancouver aquarium. In the post Jaws! era,  sharks and other obvious predators gained all the notoriety. In those days, the aquarium still held captive cetaceans which were (because of their obvious intelligence) a big hit with visitors to the facility.

But I never liked seeing whales in captivity and the creature that captured my imagination was a ferocious-looking fish unlike any other I had ever seen – and it wasn’t even alive. A coelacanth (see-la-kanth) is a fish that was rediscovered after being assumed extinct for more than 60 million years. At that time, the Vancouver Aquarium had recently obtained a preserved specimen that was pulled up in a fisherman’s net in the West Indies, redefining the notion that we had any idea of what life forms lurked in the deep waters of the world’s oceans.

coelacanth van aquarium Elon and the Coelacanth
The coelacanth is on display at the Vancouver Aquarium. It has been many years since I first saw it and I have been back a few times, always seeking out this most awesome beast. Image: Vancouver Aquarium

These so-called Lazarus Species are not really that uncommon, in 2018, this article on Happy Eco News talks about 14 of the most recent and high-profile cases of creatures once thought extinct, that have been rediscovered, sometimes with large, thriving populations.

Even as a child, I vaguely understood the enormity of what I was seeing. Despite all the scientific research and study of all the places on the earth, large species like this 6 foot long, 200-pound fish could escape detection for so many years – fossils the only indication to scientists that it ever existed at all.

Extinct of course – until it wasn’t.

This of course begs the question, how many others are there? How many plants and animals are there on this planet (the only planet we know that for sure supports life) that have not yet been discovered or rediscovered? Why are we sending billionaires and celebrities into space in an attempt to colonize other planets when we don’t even know all that we have here?

So that was my question to Mr. Musk. Unfortunately, he wasn’t there to share the moment with me. Maybe someday. But until that time, I hope that the researchers, scientists, activists, and others who tirelessly work to understand our world just a bit better than the year before, continue to learn about our world and how it works. I hope that along the way, and with a little luck, they find a few more Lazarus animals too.

Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News


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