The Coelacanth

Coelacanth Discovery by Triton Dive Charters

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 this year 2017 we have had yearly sponsored expeditions with the dive team UDT a group of divers that has been consistent and that knows the canyon.  Sadly Peter Timm lost his life in a diving accident in 2014 in Umkomaas but we have continued his legacy and had our last sighting in 2016 - Eve Marshall, Werner Nell & Johnny Eisterhuizen saw Jessie our first individual again - It seems the population is still thriving.

Link for more information on the Coelacanth