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Coelacanth In Ganges River?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on August 29th, 2009

Breaking news out of the country of India gives some pause. Has a new population of coelacanth been discovered?

Reports are being accompanied by the photograph above that a coelacanth (Latimeria sp.?) has been recovered from the Ganges River.

Of course, such a find would be a remarkable discovery, extending the known ranges of the fish often called a “living fossil” beyond those of Latimeria chalumnae near the Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Madagascar, and in iSimangaliso Wetland Park, Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa, and Latimeria menadoensis off the shore of Sulawesi, Indonesia.


Coelacanths, which first appeared in the Middle Devonian fossil record, were thought to have become extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. That is until the first specimen was found off the east coast of South Africa in 1938.

Now news comes that Indian paleontologists are rushing to Calcutta in West Bengal after locals claimed to have fished a “prehistoric coelacanth” out of the water. The experts are trying to work out how what would be the biggest ever coelacanth specimen, weighing 320 kilos, came to be floating down the Ganges.

The fish, eight feet long and three feet wide, had a cut on its stomach and some of the fins had been torn free.


Officials appear to be standing by the young people who raised the alarm saying: “Initially we thought that a big sea animal was coming to devour us, it was only when we got out the water we realised it was dead.”

Experts believe that if it is a coelacanth, the fish may have been caught and dumped by fishermen as it is almost worthless because the flesh exudes oils even when dead, giving the flesh a foul flavor and a disgusting smell, reports the Austrian Times.

Philip Burns, who maintains the world’s only site on “Cryptozoology and Philately,” an excellent resource, passed this news along to me, with a caution I share. The photograph appears to show a fish other than a coelacanth, something like a grouper. The common name “grouper” is usually given to fish in one of two large genera, Mycteroperca and Epinephelus.

I think I may have even identified the exact species of grouper. Compare the photograph of the Ganges fish with a preserved specimen of the orange-spotted grouper, Epinephelus coioides (Hamilton, 1822), whose range includes the coastal areas of India.


Mystery fish from the Ganges River, 2009.


Epinephelus coioides. Tisu Girl photo, used with permission.

Needless to say, if there is a followup to this story, I’ll note it here at Cryptomundo.

Stamp images courtesy of Pib Burns’ great site.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


20 Responses to “Coelacanth In Ganges River?”

  1. ScottAR responds:

    It’s interesting that these people would be aware of the Coelacanth but not recognize a far more common grouper.

  2. mystery_man responds:

    I don’t know about the veracity of the reports in general, but I will say in my opinion, the fish pictured is most certainly not a coelacanth. Missing fins or no, the line of the dorsal fin alone in enough to discount it as a coelacanth. There are no fins missing there, and no sign of the coelacanth’s distinctive lobes. I agree with Loren that it is a type of grouper.

    So the story may have merit, but that photo is not a coelacanth. Do with that what you will.

  3. fossilhunter responds:

    Greetings All!
    Looks like a grouper to me. There are different types, but some can get REALLY big, six feet long and 500 pounds. There may have been fins removed from the found fish, but unless they added the short, spiny fin area along the top, that’s no living fossil.

  4. korollocke responds:

    Given the tail it’s either a grouper or sea bass.

  5. maslo63 responds:

    That fish is clearly not a Coelacanth, a member of the Sarcopterygii class. The fish photographed has a spiny dorsal fin putting it in the Perciformes order of Acanthopterygii. Looks very much like a species of grouper.

  6. Hoytshooter responds:

    The fish in the picture also is not eight feet long. Compare it’s length to the men standing beside it, especially the man holding the screen. Unless, of course, he is extremely tall.

  7. Lee Murphy responds:

    Just a brief aside regarding the taste of coelacanth meat. I remember reading where marine biologist John McCosker had tasted coelacanth meat and said it was quite tasty. Not as good as bald eagle, or manatee, I’m sure ;)

  8. Desert Dave responds:

    It is quite similar to a Jewfish or Grouper….they can get up to 500-600 lbs..50 to 100 lbs are not at all uncommon. From personal experience with Fla Keys salt water variety-Grouper and Jewfish meat is delicious.

  9. coelacanth1938 responds:

    There’s one test they can do.
    Coelacanths have an oily flesh that will cause diarrhea if eaten.

  10. cryptidsrus responds:

    I agree with Mystery_Man and others that the critter in the photograph is almost certainly not a Coelacanth.

    But the story may have merit anyway. It may itself be true.

    Hope more information comes forward. Thsi would be an exciting “discovery” if found to be correct. :)

  11. Ceroill responds:

    Agreed, not a Coelacanth.

  12. krs9864 responds:

    Rather than a Jewfish or Grouper, could this not be a Nile Perch?

  13. kgehrman responds:

    There is also something very non-coelacanth-like about that grouper’s scales.

    Though it is really hard to tell from such a small photo. I have seen a preserved coelacanth up close and the scales are much larger with an armored ancient look. I have read that the Comorans used to use them to abrade things (like you would sandpaper) before the the creature was “discovered” of course. I have heard the children would keep scales in their possession in case they needed to repair and patch the tube of a flat bicycle tire.

  14. Aravat responds:

    The mouth doesnt fit, the fins don’t fit, and where’s the armor like scales? This is not like any Coelacanth I’ve ever seen. I’ve looked at both photographs and video of these fish.
    Does anybody think the fish in question looks like Latimeria chalumnae/menadoensis?
    Let me know.

  15. wncranger responds:

    krs9864, I agree with you. It does look like a Nile Perch!

  16. mystery_man responds:

    krs9864- No, it’s not a Nile perch. The fish pictured here lacks the more pronounced dorsal crest of the Nile perch. We could also expect to see a more sloped head and pronounced jutting mouth with a Nile perch.

    I’m willing to go with grouper on this one, although perhaps not the species suggested here.

  17. mystery_man responds:

    The nile perch also does not have quite as huge a mouth as this fish seems to have. Although the angle makes it hard to say.

    Call me crazy, but it looks almost as if it might be a warsaw grouper Ephinephelus nigritus to me. The general shape and coloration are similar, and warsaw groupers are the only type with 10 dorsal spines. By my count, the fish pictured here seems to have 10 dorsal spines (although it’s a bit hard to make out). There doesn’t seem to be the typical pronounced second dorsal spine, but that could be from damage mentioned on the fins, or scavengers eating away at it. After all, it was found dead.

    What a warsaw grouper would be doing in the Ganges river is anyone’s guess. They are not found anywhere near India, but that’s what this sort of looks like to me.

    Anyway, definitely not a coelacanth, and I’m starting to think that if the whole account is based on this photographed specimen, then this is a case of mistaken identity. The mystery seems to be not whether or not coelacanth are in the river or not, but rather just what exact species this is and how it got there.

  18. mystery_man responds:

    I do have to say that the gills and some of the other features of the mystery fish are remarkably similar to the grouper picture provided by Loren. That species makes sense in a lot of ways. The orange-spotted grouper is found around India, and it is also known to frequent brackish waters. This increases the chance that it might have gone too far upstream and died as a result.

    It sure would be nice to see a profile photo of the fish in question. That could really clear a lot up.

  19. Andrew D. Gable responds:

    Looks like the grouper to me.

    That said, I’d dig the idea of coelacanths in the Ganges – after all, remember the theory (I think Karl Shuker came up with it) that the buru was a lungfish? Coelacanth wouldn’t be too far off.

  20. youcantryreachingme responds:

    10 points to Philip Burns – that fish looks nothing like a coelacanth. It looks clearly perch-like, meaning it’s in the order Perciformes, which, of course, includes groupers.



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