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Missing Links, Living Fossils, and Trick Photography

by  Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

For almost a century and a half, evolutionists have been searching for the special “transitional” creature that allegedly allowed fish to trudge up onto dry land. Fossil records of a peculiar fish, thought to be 70 million years old, often were alluded to as the key to this “transition” from water to land. Look in any biology textbook under the word “coelacanth,” and you are likely to find a description of this “missing link.” Raven and Johnson described it in their college-level biology text in the following manner: “Although Latimeria [its scientific name] is a very strange animal, its features mark it as a member of the evolutionary line that gave rise to the terrestrial tetrapods” (1989, p. 857). Other authors described it this way: “Ancestors of this coelacanth are thought to have given rise to the amphibians. The paired fins show the basic plan of a jointed series of bones that could evolve into the limbs of a terrestrial vertebrate” (Villee, et al., 1985, p. 550). Prior to 1938, the coelacanth was known only from fossils, which afforded scientists a great deal of speculation when they tried to extrapolate a physiology from the record of the rocks. Certain structures, such as fins, were determined to be the forerunners of legs for all amphibians. With joy abounding, evolutionists designated this as the animal that allowed fish to crawl out of the muck and mire in order to live on dry land.


In December 1938, a living coelacanth was caught off the coast of Africa, and soon thereafter the evolutionists’ joy turned to consternation when it was determined that the soft anatomy of the coelacanth was nothing like that of an amphibian. A 1999 book review in Nature provided the following commentary regarding the anatomy of coelacanths: “…it shares very few advanced characteristics with the tetrapods, and this puts it somewhere near the base of the sarcopterygian [vertebrates in which the fin/limbs portion of the skeleton articulates to the girdles by means of a single bone—BH] tree. In a sense, the coelacanth tells us more about the primitive condition of all bony fishes than about the origin of tetrapods” (Janvier, p. 856). Subsequent discoveries of this special fish soon made it quite apparent that these fish did not live in shallow areas “ready to crawl out onto land.” In fact, this fish has been observed in caves 200 meters down, and is known to die from decompression when brought to the surface! Additionally, researchers were placed into a position of explaining just how an animal that was supposed to have walked with the dinosaurs could suddenly show up again, without there being any “recent” fossils to account for the great gap in time.

But are these “deep” water fish found only in caves off the coast of Africa? Wouldn’t it be convenient if another group of coelacanths were found in shallow water? In the cover story in the September 24, 1998 issue of Nature (“The Lost Tribe of Coelacanths”), Mark Erdmann and his team identified coelacanths from Indonesia that also were found in deep water (Erdmann, et al., 1998)—a find that greatly changed the supposed distribution of these fish. More recently, a paper was submitted to Nature by Bernard Seret, Laurent Pouyaud, and Georges Serre in which a coelacanth was said to have been caught in the shallow, muddy bay of Pangandaran. This new find, if true, would help bolster this species as a transitional animal moving from water to land. The key words here are “if true,” because it appears that the image used to document this new find is a forgery! Roy Caldwell, a coauthor of the 1998 Nature paper from which the photograph appears to have been reproduced, scrutinized it and stated: “I am 100% certain the image is a fake” (p. 114). This allegation has many individuals in the scientific community up in arms, and has prevented the publication of the Seret paper in Nature thus far. To date, no less than four articles already have appeared in Nature in response to this “new find,” each of which castigates the authors for the forged photograph (see McCabe and Wright, 2000, p. 114; McCabe, 2000, p. 225; Erdmann and Caldwell, 2000 p. 343; News in Brief, 2000, p. 554). Bernard Seret, one of the authors of the submitted paper and an ichthyologist at the Museum of Natural History in Paris, admits that the two photographs appear to show the same fish. He stated simply: “This is very embarrassing” (as quoted in Caldwell, 1998, p. 114). Very embarrassing indeed! One of articles in Nature is titled “How New Technology Put a Coelacanth Among the Heirs of Piltdown Man” (Erdmann and Caldwell, 2000, p. 343).

Georges Serre, the individual responsible for providing the picture, still claims that the photograph is authentic, although he now says “it was taken by a friend who later died and whose widow gave it to Serre before moving abroad” (p. 114). A French development agency has now gone to court to inquire into the alleged forgery, and the Institut de Recherche pour le Developpement where two of the authors work has launched a formal investigation. While all this fighting is going on, several things remain clear. The coelacanth is not the transitional animal evolutionists have been seeking so desperately. The DNA and genetic data gathered from these animals show just the opposite by documenting that this animal has remained stable throughout time. In other words, the coelacanth provides strong evidence for creation, because it has reproduced its kind throughout the years, just like the Bible’s book of Genesis said fishes would!


Erdmann, Mark V., Roy L. Caldwell, and M. Kasim Moosa (1998), “Indonesian ‘King of the Sea’ Discovered,” Nature, 395:335, September 24.

Erdmann, Mark V., and Roy L. Caldwell (2000), “How New Technology Put a Coelacanth Among the Heirs of Piltdown Man,” Nature, 406:343, July 27.

Janvier, Philippe (1999), “Coleacanth a’ la Marseillaise,” Nature, 401:854-856, October 28.

McCabe, Heather (2000), “Recriminations and Confusion Over ‘Fake’ Coelacanth Photo,” Nature, 406:225, July 20.

McCabe, Heather and Janet Wright (2000), “Tangled Tale of a Lost, Stolen, and Disputed Coelacanth,” Nature, 406:114, July 13.

News in Brief (2000), “French Agency Seeks Inquiry into ‘Forged’ Coelacanth Photo,” Nature, 406:554, August 10.

Raven, P.H., and G.B. Johnson, eds. (1989), Biology (St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby College Publishing), second edition.

Villee, C.A., E.P. Solomon, and P.W. Davis (1985), Biology (New York: Saunders College Publishing).

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