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New Insights About the Behavioral Ecology of the Coelacanth Latimeria chalumnae Video Recorded in the Absence of Humans Off South Africa

Jiro Sakaue

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- Coelacanths were thought to be extinct for 65 million years after the end of the Cretaceous, until the first discovery of an extant Latimeria coelacanth was made in 1938 when one was caught by a fisherman off East London and brought to the attention of the South African ichthyologist Dr J.L.B.
- The first encounter with a live African coelacanth was made by previous research who observed a dying individual exhibiting feeble movements, but many live individuals were later observed from submersibles.
- We mainly focus on reporting additional species that we identified that were not listed by previous research, and some species seen in the u-shaped cave that was occupied by the coelacanth near the end of the study are mentioned.
- A coelacanth entered the cave on the morning of 11 July 2018 and could subsequently be clearly identified as being the frequently seen individual known as Individual no. 14 that was named “Noah” (Supplementary Figure 3).
- The emergence of the coelacanth swimming into the cave in Jesser Canyon was recorded at 08:44 by the camera placed near the cave entrance and the fish left the cave at 09:13.
- The coelacanth remained in the same area for about 5 min before a large sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus, was seen along the southern edge of the cave.
- Without a frame of reference to use, the size of the coelacanth and shark was difficult to estimate; but the shark appeared to be about 2 m or less in length, and the coelacanth was substantially smaller than the shark.
- A sparid was observed brushing its body on the sand (Figure 8I), so the set camera in front of the cave recorded the interactions and natural behavioral ecology of fishes and invertebrates in the cave off Sodwana Bay in the absence of humans for the first time.
- Our diving efforts and use of set cameras mostly in and around one cave off Sodwana Bay resulted in the observation of many fish species that are present in the upper habitats occupied by coelacanths.
- Our study suggests that fixed cameras may be a highly useful method for studying the communities of fishes that interact with coelacanths.
- Our observations indicate that various species use the cave for hiding during the day, many fishes are moving around or passing through the caves, and sharks sometimes move through the caves, which make them important habitats for the biodiversity of fishes, including coelacanths, living off this part of South Africa.
- Our study suggests that fixed underwater camera deployments might be a logical new methodology for studying the behavior and ecology of coelacanths without causing disturbances to their lives and habitats, even if these camera systems might be deployed from submersibles instead of using deep-scuba methods.

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