New search
download case
  • Overview
  • Teaching Notes
  • Answer Key
  • Comments/Replies

A Strange Fish Indeed

The Discovery of a Living Fossil


Robert H. Grant
Editorial Department
The Scientist


Through a series of fictionalized diary entries, this case recounts the 1939 discovery by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer (and identification by J.L.B. Smith) of a living coelacanth, a fish believed to be extinct for over 70 million years. Developed for use in a freshman biology course as an introduction to the nature and methods of scientific inquiry, the case could also be modified for use in a number of upper-level biology courses such as ichthyology, evolutionary biology, and conservation ecology.

  • To expose students to an incident of scientific discovery.
  • To introduce students to methods of formal scientific inquiry.
  • To initiate discussion concerning communication within the scientific community.
  • To illustrate evolutionary relationships between classes of animals.
  • To understand the concept of homology and to cite examples of homologous structures.
Keywords: Coelacanth; Latimeria chalumnae; homology; homologous structures; eusthenopteron; tetrapod; fish; evolution; extinction; ichthyology; J.L.B. Smith; Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer; East London Museum; South Africa
Topical Area: History of science, Scientific method, Women in science
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Discussion, Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Evolutionary Biology   Ecology   Paleontology   Zoology  
Date Posted: 06/24/05
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

  Download Teaching Notes

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

  Get Answer Key
I used this case in two sections of my non-major university course titled "Biology for Living." This was my first attempt at using or incorporating a case study into my courses. The students seemed very receptive to the idea. After I gave them part one of the study, they asked lots of questions about the fish. It got them very interested. Most (if not all) had never heard of the coelacanth. I added to the pictures by pulling up photos of coelacanths on the computer and projecting them for the students to see during each part. I followed up the case with a homework assignment. They had to report on recent research or happenings with regard to the coelacanth fish.

Shannon McNew
Department of Biology
Southeast Missouri State University
Cape Girardeau, MO

City State:
security code
Enter Security Code: