Portland Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen just made a major contribution to the study of living fossils, and I'm not talking about Juwan Howard or Marcus Camby.
Amy West of MongaBay.com reports that Allen lent his custom submarine to scientists who used it to study descendants of coelacanths -- a fish thought to have gone extinct more than 70 millions year ago -- off the coast of Africa.
A study published earlier this year in the journal Marine Biology summarizes 21 years of coelacanth population research by one team, led by Hans Fricke of the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen, Germany. Working in the Indian Ocean off the African island nation of Comoros, Fricke documented a stable population of Latimeria chalumnae. However, his study notes that deep-set fishing nets could threaten these unique animals.
The last living relative of the coelacanth ("SEE-la-kanth") disappeared 70 million years ago. The fish "returned" from its presumed extinction after fishermen captured one in 1938. This "living fossil" retains characteristics unlike those found in modern fish: hollow tail spines, fleshy fin bases, unique fin coordination, hinged skull, electroreceptor organ, and armored scales. Like some sharks, coelacanths bear live young.
Though Fricke was surprised at never seeing juveniles during the study to date, Erdmann was not. Manned subs have fundamental restraints, notably observation time and maneuvering in tight spaces, that make it difficult to "look in small cracks and caves." Japanese researchers discovered the first juvenile using a smaller remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
To explore potential juvenile and adult habitat deeper than Fricke's census area, Paul Allen- the cofounder of Microsoft- lent his ROV to Fricke for three dives.
This story has nothing to do with anything but, yeah, pretty cool.
-- Ben Golliver | email@example.com | Twitter