The population biology of the living coelacanth studied over 21 years

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.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by grants of the German Research Council DFG to H. Fricke, the last expedition in 2008 by grant No. FR 369/22-1. We thank the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany for financial and administrative assistances. The Max Planck Society in Munich, Germany, and the Frankfurt Zoological Society-Help for Threatened Wildlife supported our research over many years. The Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences IFM-GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany supplied technical support. We thank all captains and crews of the vessels METOKA, SEA EAGLE, DEEP SALVAGE, INDIAN OCEAN EXPLORER and SOLAND for successful operations during the many years of our submersible operations. We are especially thankful to Paul Allen from Vulcan Co. who placed his MY OCTOPUS with diving equipment at our disposal. The government of the Islamic Republic of the Comoros allowed our diving operations within their territorial waters. The German Embassy in Antananarivo helped with all governmental matters, the CNDRS in Moroni with official internal affairs. Many thanks to Rik Nulens who supplied us with coelacanth literature and to Peter Forey for valuable comments on the text and for smoothing our English. We are especially grateful to Anja Fricke for her valuable help to improve the manuscript. Special thanks also to Mrs. Andree Koechlin and our friend Dr. Heinrich Vischer, both from Basle, Switzerland, for their generous support.

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Correspondence to Hans Fricke.

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Dedicated on the occasion of the 80th birthday of Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wickler.

Communicated by C. Harrod.

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Fricke, H., Hissmann, K., Froese, R. et al. The population biology of the living coelacanth studied over 21 years. Mar Biol 158, 1511–1522 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-011-1667-x

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Keywords

  • Fishing
  • Home Range
  • Western Indian Ocean
  • Total Population Size
  • Observation Area