December 23, 1938 - This was the day that Marjorie Latimer, the curator of a small museum in South Africa, stopped by the docks to say "Merry Christmas" to a friend.
The acquaintance was the captain of a fishing trawler. As she passed by a table loaded with the day's catch, Latimer noticed a blue fin sticking out from the pile of otherwise green and gray fish. When she brushed the other sea life aside, she couldn't believe her eyes.
I picked away at the layers of slime to reveal the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. It was five feet (150 cm) long, a pale mauvy blue with faint flecks of whitish spots; it had an iridescent silver-blue-green sheen all over. It was covered in hard scales, and it had four limb-like fins and a strange puppy dog tail.
Latimer had no idea what kind of fish this was, but she knew it was important. She convinced her taxi driver to transport the large and stinky creature back to the museum.
A sketch was made and sent off to a college professor that Latimer knew. Meanwhile, the mystery fish was uncermoniously gutted and mounted for display.
When the professor returned from Christmas break and reviewed Latimer's sketch, he quickly sent an urgent telegram:
IMPORTANT PRESERVE SKELETON AND GILLS = FISH DESCRIBED.
Sure enough, the fish was a Coelacanth. Until then, science believed this fish had been extinct for 65 million years. It would take another 14 years before a second specimen appeared.
In addition to its leg-like appendages, the Coelacanth has a tiny brain and an elongated, tube-like heart. It's regarded as an important evolutionary missing link between fish and four-legged amphibians.