Fishing Expedition: Blast from the past

16 March 2016 - 02:08 By Kate Sidley

Filmakers, extreme divers, scientists and even musicians are teaming up to find - and film - the elusive "fossil fish", the coelacanth.Local filmmaker Efpe Senekal, of Silverback Guerilla, who has long had a fascination with this rare prehistoric fish, will join a team of deep-sea divers to explore Sodwana Bay, where the cave-dwelling coelacanth has previously been spotted.The expedition, scheduled for April 2 to 12, is technically difficult and dangerous.The fish live between 100m and 700mdown, beyond the reach of even the most extreme aqualung divers. To add to the challenge, coelacanths tend to hide in their caves during the day."There's a whole medical team working with us, doing research on diving at this depth and monitoring the formation of bubbles in the blood. The divers have to breath tri-mix, a mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and helium. It takes four hours for them to surface after a 20-minute dive if they are to avoid being struck by "the bends", an excruciating and often fatal condition caused by bubbles of inert gases forming in the blood.Their preparation and descent will be filmed from support boats and aerial drones. Underwater cameras and GoPros will also be used."The big challenge is to get the camera down there," said Senekal. "We're building a remote operated vehicle to which we'll attach a camera."The fish are rare - there are thought to be fewer than 1000. Senekal said a recent French expedition spotted only one coelacanth in 20 dives.The documentary will recount recent attempts to find and film the coelacanth. In December 1999 the fish was located at 100m. Two divers died in that expedition.This peculiar fish and its astonishing history have captivated public imagination since its discovery in 1938.The coelacanth was thought to have become extinct about 65million years ago, around the time the dinosaurs died out.But in 1938 Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, who worked at the East London Museum, was shown an odd-looking fish - with ''four limb-like fins and a strange little puppy dog tail" - in a fisherman's catch at the East London docks. She convinced a reluctant taxi driver to take her and her find back to the museum, where she could find no match in the reference books.Ichthyologist JLB Smith recognised it as a prehistoric fish that lived 400million years ago and was thought to have disappeared 340million years later. It was hailed as one of the great scientific finds of the century and was then thought to be some sort of "missing link", an ancestor of four-legged animals. It was nicknamed "Old Four Legs" for its unusual fins, which extend from its body like legs.To pay for the expedition and the one-hour documentary, Senekal and fellow Silverback Guerilla filmmaker John Delaney have launched an IndieGoGo campaign to crowd-source funding. Music producer Michael Canfield heard about the expedition and came up with the idea of a fundraiser with local band Coelacanth.The Coelacanth for Coelacanths fundraiser is tonight at The Good Luck Bar, at The Sheds @ 1 Fox, Johannesburg. All proceeds go to offsetting the cost of the expedition and making the movie

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