, Volume 158, Issue 7, pp 1511-1522
Date: 22 Mar 2011

The population biology of the living coelacanth studied over 21 years

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Abstract

Between 1986 and 2009 nine submersible and remote-operated vehicle expeditions were carried out to study the population biology of the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae in the Comoro Islands, located in the western Indian Ocean. Latimeria live in large overlapping home ranges that can be occupied for as long as 21 years. Most individuals are confined to relatively small home ranges, resting in the same caves during the day. One hundred and forty five coelacanths are individually known, and we estimate the total population size of Grande Comore as approximately 300–400 adult individuals. The local population inhabiting a census area along an 8-km section of coastline remained stable for at least 18 years. Using LASER-assisted observations, we recorded length frequencies between 100 and 200 cm total length and did not encounter smaller-bodied individuals (<100 cm total length). It appears that coelacanth recruitment in the observation areas occur mainly by immigrating adults. We estimate that the mean numbers of deaths and newcomers are 3–4 individuals per year, suggesting that longevity may exceed 100 years. The domestic fishery represents a threat to the long-term survival of coelacanths in the study area. Recent changes in the local fishery include a decrease in the abundance of the un-motorized canoes associated with exploitation of coelacanths and an increase in motorized canoes. Exploitation rates have fallen in recent years, and by 2000, had fallen to lowest ever reported. Finally, future fishery developments are discussed.

Communicated by C. Harrod.
Dedicated on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wickler.