Habitat and population size of the coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae at Grand Comoro
In 1987 and 1989 coelacanths were observed for the first time in their natural habitat with the help of submersibles. Coelacanths were found between 150–253 m depth, their preferential depth seems to be around 200 m; the water temperature ranged between 16.5–22.8° C. During the day coelacanths aggregate in small non-aggressive groups in sheltered lava-caves. Caves might be a limiting factor for distribution. At night they leave the caves for hunting by drifting singly along the steep lava slopes. They migrate between different caves located within a large home range covering more than 8 km coastline. Coelacanths are site-attached, some for a period of at least 2 years. Our own observations and earlier catch records show that only the west coast of Grand Comoro is a suitable coelacanth habitat with more structural complexity and prey fish abundance than other coastlines of the island. From our survey we estimated a total coelacanth population off Grand Comoro to be 150–210 individuals; a saturated population would be 370–510 individuals. This small relict population seems to be stable. International protection of coelacanths against commercial interests is needed.
Key wordsLiving fossil Crossopterygian Social behaviour Cave dwelling Submersible study Home range Migration
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