According to a recent study, a “fossil” fish may survive for an incredibly long period – possibly up to a century.
The coelacanth was always believed to have a lifespan of approximately 20 years, but recent research suggests that it, like sharks, is an aquatic centenarian.
The markings on the scales of museum specimens were investigated in the same way as tree rings reveal the age of trees.
They believe the fish does not reproduce until it is in its late twenties and can be pregnant for up to five years.
Slow-growing fish with few offspring are more sensitive to extinction threats like climate change and overfishing.
According to Dr. Bruno Ernande of the University of Montpellier in France, knowing the coelacanth’s life history might assist impose even greater protection and conservation measures.
The coelacanth was long considered to be extinct until it was found in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa in 1938.
After that, two populations were found, one off the coast of Africa and the other off the shore of Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Only a few hundred individuals remain in the African population, which is classified as severely endangered.
The coelacanth appears to have one of, if not the slowest, life histories among marine fish, according to Dr. Kélig Mahé of the North Sea Fisheries Research Unit in Boulogne-sur-mer, France (deep-water fish such as the orange roughy).
“As a result of its unusual life history, our findings suggest that it may be much more vulnerable than previously thought,” he said.
“As a result, these new pieces of information on the biology and life history of coelacanths are critical to the species’ conservation and management.”
The coelacanth’s ancestors developed 420 million years ago, surviving continental shifts and an asteroid impact that wiped off the dinosaurs.
Individuals living in caverns on the ocean floor can reach a height of 1.8 meters (6 feet) and weigh more than 90 kg (200 pounds).
Current Biology is the publication where the study was published.