Mental Floss

How to Prepare a Coelacanth

Erin McCarthy

Until the coelacanth was rediscovered in 1938, scientists assumed this prehistoric-looking fish had gone extinct 65 million years ago. The latest episode of the American Museum of Natural History's series Shelf Life delves into the history of the museum's specimen, which was acquired in 1962. These now-endangered fish can live 60 years, grow up to 6.5 feet long, and weigh 200 pounds. The museum's coelacanth came from the Comoros Islands, off the east coast of Africa. Upon arrival at the museum, it was dissected by a visiting researcher, who discovered five embryonic pups inside the fish—showing, for the first time, that coelacanths give birth to live young.

The episode also goes behind the scenes of the Ichthyology Department to explore the different ways fish specimens can be preserved. The museum has more than 2 million fish specimens dating back 130 years, and says Melanie Stiassny, a curator in the Department of Ichthyology, "the critical and key thing is to have these specimens preserved and conserved for all time. We could never reproduce what we've got here, because the world has changed. So this is almost like a time capsule."