In 1938 Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, a curator at the East London museum in South Africa, received a phone call from the local docks. A fisherman had landed a strange-looking fish. He knew that Courtenay-Latimer was always interested in seeing unusual specimens and thought she might like to come down and view the catch.

Reaching the quay, Courtenay-Latimer opened the net and picked away at the layers of detritus. What she found, she said, was the “most beautiful fish” she had ever seen.1

Courtenay-Latimer should, perhaps, have seen more fish. The specimen was five feet long, “a pale, mauvy blue with faint flecks of whitish spots [with] an iridescent ...

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