The Neoceratodus campaign

I’ve had about 8 requests for further information on saving the Australian lungfish. That’s a good start, and thanks to everyone who wrote in, but it’s not enough. Look at that beautiful finny beast to the right; do you want them all to die? And seriously, look at those fins: aren’t they spectacular? Don’t you want to know how they develop and how they evolved?

The Australian government is planning to dam the last rivers on which these spectacular vertebrates live, and that will be it for them. We’ll be left with nothing but bones and tissue samples and few relics in aquaria.


Those sure are beautiful, informative bones…but we can learn so much more from the living animal.


So let’s make one more big effort to let the Australian government know that there is international opposition to their cavalier destruction of an important and unique habitat. Losing these special creatures is a loss of scientific information and a loss of an unusual element of the Australian ecosystem.

If you’ve got a moment, write a polite and considerate letter to one or all of the following members of the Australian government. Let them know that they are planning to do irreparable damage to their environment, and the world is watching them.

It doesn’t have to be a long letter, it would be sufficient to write a brief note that says the the world values these remarkable, unique animals, and that you think more effort must be made in cooperation with the scientific community to find alternatives. Remember, though: politeness and sincerity are paramount. Don’t give them an excuse to dismiss the email as the work of cranks.


  1. lo says

    haha, cmon…personification in order to build up a pseudo relationship with a fish. The only fascinating thing is nature itself and it sure as hell doesn`t start with fish but rather physically at the current knowledge that would be subparticular, as the intrinsic features of quarks etc are ultimately what gives rise to complex structures such as us.

    The same fascination should be attendet to you as well as the creationists, meaning the psychological evolution. What makes it possible for a human being to have blind faith (okay, imprinting (no i am not talking about histone codes et al but rather this fancy term from field of psychology). But on a neural level this is where the truth starts, and hopefully will transpire with blue brain et al.

    As for the fish, the only thing i care about is that they are sequenced maintained somewhere in an artificial environment (because even though the DNA is stressed over and over it is just a tiny fraction of the whole truth – and even though it is marketed otherwise we still don`t know much about it – and well….vitrification would be awesome however not feasible for whole fish yet (or am i misled?). All as a backup solution of course. Then again every day just AS fascinating species die out. I`d rather go for rationality and reason and thus for quantity and save thousand of algae and little plants than care about this particular fish to inhabit his natural environment (as quantity also goes for the diversifaction and perculiarities of the molecular pathways).

    But yeah, to humanize my post, this sweet fish really does look edible enough.

  2. Alex says

    Thanks for your work on this BLOG, especially with these enlightening biological threads. Great stuff.

  3. James says

    PZ – speaking as an Australian (and therefore someone who has had the misfortune to observe Australian politics at close quarters for many years) I think some public pressure would help in addition to mailing the responsible politicians.

    Maybe a letter or two to major newspapers from prominent _overseas_ professionals and academics (hint, hint).

    (Brisbane, state capital of Queensland, the state responsible for the dam)
    The Editor,
    The Courier-Mail,
    GPO Box 130
    Brisbane, 4001.
    Fax: +61 (07) 3666 6696

    (“Sydney Morning Herald”, Sydney, largest Australian city and state)
    The Editor,
    Sydney Morning Herald
    GPO Box 3771,
    Sydney 2001
    Fax. +61 (0)2 9282 3492

    (“The Age”, Melbourne, second largest Australian city and state)
    The Editor,
    The Age
    250 Spencer Street,
    Melbourne 3000
    Fax. +61 (0)3 96012414

    (Canberra, national capital)
    Canberra Times
    No address or fax – Canberra’s a small place.
    Try phone: +61 (2) 6280 2122

    One thing to know is that these river projects are boondoggles with about 100 years of history behind them. There’s been a long campaign in Queensland (many decades) to “turn back the rivers” and irrigate the inland. In the past the proposals have been defeated (because they’re completely uneconomic) and there’s a chance they could be again.

  4. CCP says

    Thanks too, PZ, from one of the 8.
    Ecosystems, yes, for dog’s sakes let’s save ecosystems! And biomes! Watersheds!! We can concentrate at the same time on conserving particularly interesting (for whatever reason of scientific interest) lineages like these living relics of Gondwanaland. And choosing NOT to build a dam (for whatever reason) is choosing NOT to erase forever the community (if not the ecosystem) that has coevolved upriver.
    In this case, it’s of course not JUST the lungfish (unspeakably cool though it is, and not just because of its limb development but also, e.g., for many aspects of its physiology)…more examples of endemic-thus-endangered, not-quite-so-charismatic-perhaps-as-a-lungfish, but equally Gondawanalandian megafauna found only in the damned Burnett and Mary Rivers are several species of side-necked turtles:
    But, see, by conserving the megafauna you also save the “thousand of algae and little plants,” insects, teleosts, etc. with which they share a habitat and interact ecologically.
    So, yeah, please do what you can to save Neoceratodus !!!

  5. redstripe says

    Email sent. A brief note just asking them to add my voice to those concerned about the Mary and Burnett Rivers. Hope it helps.

  6. Coragyps says

    ” Minister for Environment, Local Government, Planning and Women”

    Helluva neat title! But I’ll email him.

  7. catherine says

    Something there is that does not love a dam. With apologies to Robert Frost. Have written.

  8. pastor maker says

    Sheesh, PZ, if you’re going to get involved in Australian internal politics, at least get your facts right. The Australian federal government isn’t building the dam: the Queensland state government is.

    What is it with Americans seeing every foreign nation as a single political entity?

    Of course applying pressure on the Australian federal government is your best chance of stopping the Mary River dam project, but unless George W. Bush is on your team, and shooting Arabs is involved, I don’t dig your chances.

  9. Scott Hatfield says


    It is with the greatest trepidation that I, a foreign national, speak to you, a public servant of the peoples of Australia. But, the situation is so dire, and the stakes so high for the scientific community that I could not let this moment pass.

    I refer to the proposed decision of Her Majesty’s Government to impound the water supplying the rivers which support that most majestic and storied of transitional forms, the Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus sp.). The importance of this ‘living fossil’ to the scientific community is difficult to estimate, but as the most clearly primitive of all living tetrapods its preservation is likely to prove vital to studies in development and comparative anatomy in the future, and this carries great potential for innovation and discovery in medicine and genomics likely to benefit all of mankind.

    In addition, the preservation of this unique species in its pristine environment will no doubt constitute a growing future impetus to tourism and scientific exchange of great benefit to Queensland and greater Australia. I urge you, therefore, to consider other solutions that can meet the needs of Australia’s growing population without sacrificing one of the continent’s priceless treasures.


    Scott Hatfield
    address omitted

  10. Erekose says

    I would like to add that if possible, actually write a letter to the respective MP rather than just E-mail them. For some reason they pay more attention if you take the extra time. Good work for spotting this PZ!

  11. says

    I also sent a brief letter, perhaps to be dismissed as another Yank sticking his nose in in Oz’s business, but here’s hoping that with more letters they will consider other options.

    Don’t worry, I was polite.

  12. quork says

    This is a failure of marketing. You can’t sell a product with a complicated and dull name like “Neoceratodus”. They should have chosen a short, catchy name, like Tiktaalik.

  13. says

    “Lungy, the toughest of the lungfish! The most athletic! The one with the strongest arm-fins! The Australian champion lungfish!

    Save Old “Lungy”!

  14. Paul Willis says

    For those punters who want to learn a bit more about the Queensland Lungfish, have a look at
    It’s a story I put together on the lungfish for Australian TV.

    And, having held one of these remarkable creatures in my arms, I urge everyone to get behind the push to save these remarkable creatures.

  15. Neo's friend says

    PZ Thank you from the doorstep of the damn dam on the Mary River that threatens the last natural habitat of the Australian lungfish (wheezer, as the locals have named him). We are in the middle of a severe drought and people are being whipped into a frenzy over water supply but at the same time resisting any discussion of water recycling. Efficient water management and use would seem a better option than a dam on our huggable fish’s spawning site.

  16. CCP says

    Don’t forget the turtles! (“tortoises” they call em in Oz)
    Everybody likes turtles!
    (even pleurodires like these)

  17. Andrew says

    And just to reinforce CCP’s point about Oz politics: Anthony Albanese is a member of the opposition Labor Party in the Australian Federal Government. He represents a Sydney city electorate and is in no way connected with the Queensland government nor the current Australian Government. He is a supporter of worthy causes but emailing him would amount to no more than preachinb to the converted.

  18. says

    Also, a quick google would have told the well-meaner upthread that our Federal level of government is the Australian Commonwealth Government, not Her Majesty’s Australian Government (those particular colonial shackles of governmental nomenclature were cast off decades ago, even though Betty Windsor is still our sovereign).

    Please don’t take this as disparaging of your intent in any way, but details like this matter when corresponding with politicians. They find it harder to dismiss a letter that’s got the nitty-gritty correct.

  19. says

    What is it evolutionists have said? 99% of all species that have ever lived are extinct? What’s the big deal if one more dies out? I just don’t get that dichotomy: look at all these species that have died out – now let’s save this single species from extinction!!!

    And besides, wouldn’t their extinction leave room for some other species to evolve and take their place?

  20. Steve_C says

    Ummm. There’s a difference between forced extinction and natural extinction.

    Hey. Maybe if you stopped commenting there would be room for people who made sense.

  21. scot says

    You really want to concentrate on Peter Beattie here. He is the Premier of the state of Queensland. The “Australian” (i.e. Commonwealth, or Federal) Government is not making any dam anywhere. The politics are complex however.

    The reason you might want to contact Albanese is because although he is the Shadow Minister for the Environment in the federal opposition, he’s from the same party as Peter Beattie. you also might want to try Wayne Swan, he’s the opposition Shadow Treasurer in the federal parliament, he’s also a Queenslander (Albanese isn’t).

  22. Gordon Hides says

    Just some of the “untruths”
    “she is the only researcher to breed lungfish”
    We are the only one to breed lungfish under controlled conditions as set out by DEH.

    “They only lay a few eggs’
    10,000 is not a few

    “Documents were shredded concerning lungfish in the area of Traveston”
    No documents or research was ever done at or near Traveston

    ” Lungfish will become extinct if Traveston Dam goes ahead”
    What abslute rubbish.

    “there are only 10,000 lungfish in the wild”
    Research shows there are at least 30,000 to 40,000 in the Burnett river, alone plus the other 3 rivers that sustain healthy populations. Lungfish release a hormone to stop over population of the rivers.

    ” Lungfish do not breed in dams”
    She herslf supposedly breeds lungfish in a pond (read dam)
    We breed lungfish in ponds-dams.

    Dont get me wrong, we are not for or against the dam,I just want to stck to the facts.

    The lungfish are a truly beautiful, fascinating and remarkable fish and we want to do everything we can to have them around for another 300,000,000 years, and we dont believe in killing them and cutting there heads of for so called research and personal gain.

    gordon at

  23. Jean Joss ('she') says

    There is just one ‘truth’ in the above commentary. That being: “The lungfish are a truly beautiful, fascinating and remarkable fish and we want to do everything we can to have them around for another 300,000,000 years”. Please keep your support coming in. Let’s save our lungfish together.

  24. Gordon Hides says

    Sorry Jean but all our truths are supported by facts and figures(except for your breeding) not some myths out of a lab. We are the only sucessful Federal & State govt licensed breeder of lungfish. And we dont get $10,000 US each for them as you told WBBCC.I wish we did.

  25. zela bissett says

    I have learned that Gordon’s business near Hervey Bay is for sale. What does the scientific ommunity think would be the right way to run it? Seems like it could be made over to genuine lungfish research.

  26. says

    Jean I would love to see it sold to the scientific community. Then there could be some research done on their breeding requirements and triggers, which has never been done, which would certainly help the lungfish if anything ever did happen to their habitat. Plus a very profitable business. The ball is in your court.

  27. says

    Thanx so much for posting about this, and pushing the issue. As everyone knows, the Polar bear is suddenly in the news. As a ‘warm fuzzy’, it has a press advantage over the Lungfish. So, keeping the Lungfish in the public eye is very important. Great job.