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James Leonard Brierley Smith (26 October 1897 – 7 January 1968) was a South African ichthyologist. He was the first to identify a taxidermied fish as a coelacanth, at the time thought long extinct.

Born in Graaff Reinet in 1897, Smith obtained a BA degree in Chemistry from the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1916 and an MSc degree in Chemistry at Stellenbosch University in 1918. Smith went to the United Kingdom were he received his PhD degree at Cambridge University in 1922. After returning to South Africa he became Senior Lecturer and later on an Associate Professor of Organic Chemistry at Rhodes University in Grahamstown. Here he met his second wife Margaret Mary McDonald. His interest in ichthyology was sparked in childhood during a vacation in Knysna.[1]

In 1938 Smith was informed of the discovery of an unusual and unidentified fish by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, curator of the East London Museum. When he arrived in East London in February 1939, he was able to identify it immediately as a coelacanth, which was then thought to have been extinct for over 65 million years, and he named the species Latimeria after her. He was instrumental in organising the search which provided science with the second specimen of the species 14 years later.

Smith and his wife Margaret worked jointly on the popular Sea Fishes of South Africa, which was first published in 1949, followed by other writings until 1968. Among these were over 500 papers on fish and the naming of some 370 new fish species.

Following a long illness Smith took his own life in 1968[2] by cyanide poisoning. His widow Margaret founded the Institute of Ichthyology in Grahamstown. His son is the renowned South African television science and mathematics teacher William Smith.

References

  1. ^ Clymer, Eleanor (1966). Search for a Living Fossil. Scholastic. p. 15. 
  2. ^ Weinberg, Samantha (19 December 2008). "Curse of the fish that time forgot: Believed to be extinct for 65million years - it returned with chilling consequences". http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1097925/Curse-fish-time-forgot-Believed-extinct-65million-years--returned-chilling-consequences.html. Retrieved 2 May 2009. 

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