Claire Corlett

Fish Food, Fish Tanks, and More
Come Face to Face with an Ancient, Giant Fish | Object of Intrigue | Atlas Obscura

Come Face to Face with an Ancient, Giant Fish | Object of Intrigue | Atlas Obscura


– A coelacanth is a very primitive fish. Some people refer to it
as a “living fossil.” There are two species
that exist in the wild. Sometimes they’re caught
by long-line fishermen. It had been known from fossils at least a hundred years before they
found a living specimen. My name is Kevin Swagel, I am an Assistant Collections Manager in the Fish Division at the Field Museum. And today we’re going to
be unboxing the coelacanth. We have got three coelacanths
in our collection. We obtained them in the
’60s, ’70s, and ’80s from the Shedd Aquarium. When we received ’em, they
were put in formaldehyde. And formaldehyde is a fixative, it actually toughens the
tissues, hardens the tissues. Then once the formaldehyde does its thing and the specimen is real tough, we wash out the formaldehyde
with water baths and transfer it to 70% ethanol. That’s what we keep our fish in. Coelacanths are a very oily fish. Their flesh is nasty,
it’s filled with urea, and oil and wax and esters, so people do not eat them. If we look at the top of the
tank where they’re stored, there’s actually an oily
film on top of the alcohol. That oil is coelacanth oil
and it actually smells, and when I go home after
handling coelacanths I usually get a train seat, because people don’t want to sit near me. So, yeah, they do smell a little bit, but you get used to it. Sometimes fish populations
may be reduced over time through pollution or
draining of rivers or lakes, but our collection here
is like a time capsule. We know what fish were living
in those rivers or lakes before they were polluted or drained. The detail in the specimens is amazing. Under a microscope you
can see all the little fin connections and vertebrae
connections and scale counts. Everything is preserved so beautifully. A specimen can be 200 years old and you have this beautiful preservation. You can still do all the measurements and photographs and everything of that specimen for research. It’s kind of like The
Shape of Water moment. (group laughs) I watched it last night,
by the way, I rented it. So, it’s cool. – [Voice Offscreen] I haven’t seen it yet.

17 comments on “Come Face to Face with an Ancient, Giant Fish | Object of Intrigue | Atlas Obscura

  1. This is somewhat misleading, although not patently wrong.
    The descriptions given at the start are true of the Order Coelacanthiformes, but most readers will take these things to apply to the Genus Latimeria, the only extant members of the Order. They do not.
    NO fossils of Latimeria have ever been found at all. It is estimated that the Genus arose less that 40,000 years ago. Of Coelacanths, however, there are dozens of species within 5 Families known from fossils. There was a great variety of body types among those species and they occupied a variety of very different environments.
    It might have been nice to use another minute or so to give your audience a more thorough appreciation for these creatures.

  2. Nice video, interesting dude. I have so many more questions for him though, mainly after that Shape of Water reference…

  3. I saw a wonderful documentary about when it was discovered not to be extinct. A woman found it at the local fish market.

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