The Coelacanth

Coelacanth Discovery by Triton Dive Charters 1998 - 2020

On 28 October 2000, Pieter Venter, Peter Timm and Etienne le Roux were near the end of an eight-minute Trimix training dive to 104 metres in the Jesser Canyon at Sodwana Bay, in the St Lucia Marine Reserve on the northeast coast of South Africa. As they were about to ascend, Venter saw a large, pinkish eye reflecting the beam of his underwater light. He approached and, underneath an overhang, he saw a fish some two metres long. Within a few seconds he realized, to his astonishment, that the pale blue fish with its unusual lobed fins was a coelacanth. He summoned Timm, and there appeared to be two more coelacanths.

Being the instructor and concerned with the ascent part of their dive, Timm was pre-occuppied with his sightseeing students and unable to confirm that the three fish he saw were coelecanths. Later, however, when they had reached the surface, Venter convinced him that these fish were coelacanths, and the divers decided to arrange an expedition to undertake additional dives with a video camera to record the presence of this species.


On the 27th of November 2000 the divers were back and a 115 meter dive was planned. After the men had searched caves along the wall of the canyon for 12 minutes, three coelacanths came into view and were filmed with a video camera at a depth of 108 m. The largest fish was between 1.6 and 1.8m in length, and the two other coelacanths were about 1.5 and 1.0 m.

At last a search which started in 1998 had been concluded.

One of our recent dives to encounter the Coelecanths was to 103 metres on the 8th March 2008, where we were fortunate enough to see five animals in one cave. The fish were all between 1.2 and 2.2 metres long. One of the fish seen in March 2008 has a distinctive marking on its gillplate and has been nicknamed Jessie. This fish was one of the first ones to be filmed by the divers and has been seen on numerous occasions since 2000.

Since 2008 and up until 2016 Triton has had yearly sponsored expeditions originally led by the legend Peter Timm.  Peter's fiancé Eve Marshall became the first woman to see a coelacanth in 2012, he had his last sighting of his 50th individual in March 2014 with Eve Marshall, Johnny Esterhuizen and Derek Bothma.  Peter had achieved a citizen science award earlier in the year for his contribution to scientific coelacanth research.  Sadly Peter Timm lost his life in a diving accident in 2014 in Umkomaas but Eve and Triton continued his deep diving legacy and we had our last sighting in 2016 when Eve Marshall, Werner Nell & Johnny Eisterhuizen saw Jessie our first individual again.  The same year the Authorities banned diving in the canyons in order to protect the pre-historic fish. 

We managed to obtain filming permission for an expedition for Mr Kazu Maeda in May 2017.  Sadly on the first 110m dive one of the Japanese dive team and very experienced technical diver Mr Mitsu Takahara lost his life in a diving accident which halted the expedition.

In 2018 we faced a new battle as new TOPS legislation proclaimed the South African Coelacanth a "most critically endangered species" entering their habitat, approaching or harassing was now illegal and even though we already had permission from iSimangaliso we now needed additional permits to approach the coelacanth.  We had a risk assessment drafted and applied again to the DEA and after a lengthy process we managed to obtain filming permission for Kazu's Team Fossil to reschedule his expedition to take place in June/July 2018.  The only image captured during Kazu's expedition was from a camera left overnight in the U shaped cave of the individual called Noah.

Triton will be running an expedition in August 2020 - watch this space!

Film Expeditions since 2008 for Coelacanths

2009 – Laurent Ballesta French Team - Andronomede for reccy.

2010 – Laurent Ballesta French Team - Andronomede, 1 st expedition for Ushuaia Nature

2011 – Earthtouch Production with divers Richard Pyle and Robert Whitton filming Dino Fish for National Geographic.

2013 – Laurent Ballesta French Team - Andronomede, 2nd expedition filming The Gombessa Project

2017 – Japanese Expedition Kazu Maeda's Team Fossil

2018 – 2nd Japanese Expedition Kazu Maeda's Team Fossil

2018 - Wildlands Trust and Homebrew Films - documentory

Link for more information on the Coelacanth

Sardine Run SA Special