18-Foot Oarfish Monster Brought to California Shore
It was a monster of a find.
The 18-foot oarfish found dead off Catalina Island over the weekend was rare not only because they live nowhere near coastlines, but also because it was among the biggest reported in nearly 20 years.
26-year-old science instructor Jasmine Santana brought the oarfish to shore at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. The long, snake-like fish usually resides in deep oceans, but Santana happened upon it in less than 15 feet of water at Toyon Bay, about 2 miles west of the island’s main town of Avalon.
“I was out snorkeling, and I saw it just west of the pier on the sea floor,” Santana said. “I didn’t have a camera, and I thought to myself, if I just tell everyone I saw this huge thing, they probably won’t believe me.”
So, she dove down to inspect the creature and, after making sure it was dead– and checking to make sure nothing else even bigger was around that might have killed it– Santana began pulling the fish by its tail to shore.
“It was so heavy, there was no way I was lifting that thing out of the water,” she said. “It felt like I was in life-saving training for lifeguards.”
Once she got the oarfish to shallow water, other instructors ran toward the find in disbelief, helping her pull in the estimated 200-pound creature. Fellow instructor Michelle Sakai-Hart was offloading gear from the Institute’s tallship Tole Mour at the pier when she saw Santana in the water, struggling with the oarfish.
“I had heard of an oarfish, and had seen footage of a baby one, but nothing like this,” Sakai-Hart said. In total, it took 15 adults to get the silvery, slimy fish onto shore.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery,” Jeff Chace, program director at Catalina Island Marine Institute, said.
Rick Feeney, ichthyology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said giant oarfish only “wash up occasionally” because they’re typically found deep in open ocean. When oarfish come closer to shore, they could be starving, disoriented or landed in shallower water because of a storm.
“It may be a sign of distress. They’re usually in the deep ocean, away from land,” Feeney said. Giant oarfish get up to maximum length of about 27 feet, he said, adding that stories of them reaching 50 or more feet haven’t been verified.
One of the museum’s existing specimens, a 14-foot oarfish recovered from Catalina Island in 2006, is well-known to visitors. It is suspended in alcohol in a giant case in the grand foyer. “Not a whole lot is known about them, because they are sort of secretive,” Feeney said. “We’re slowly finding out more about them.”
The Catalina Island Marine Institute is awaiting results of several samples sent out to researchers of its 18-foot specimen. Until then, staff members say they lack the capacity to keep it refrigerated. In the absence of preserving the carcass, the institute may go with one option on the table: Bury the dead fish in 3 feet of sand and let it decompose over a couple of months. After that, the skeleton could be exhumed and mounted.
Oarfish live most of their lives at depths between 700 and 3,000 feet. While thought to be capable of growing to 50 feet in length, little is known of the fish’s behavior and sightings of the animal alive are rare. Oarfish are thought to be the basis of sea serpent legends accounted for by ancient sailors.
A 12-foot oarfish washed ashore in Malibu in 2010, but it was a much smaller — and thinner — variety with its silvery scales and a scarlet red dorsal fin. But not since a group of Navy SEALS found a 23-foot-long oarfish off Coronado in 1996 has such a large oarfish
been reported as this one.
In recent years, researchers have captured video of an oarfish swimming deep underwater in the Gulf of Mexico and spotted one swimming not far from the shore in Baja California.
Recent video of the creature alive and well was published in the Journal of Fish Biology this summer, as remotely operated vehicles surveying oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico incidentally captured video of the fish swimming in its natural state.
“By sheer luck, we encountered five oarfish while conducting surveys down there,” said Mark Benfield, professor at Louisiana State University’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences. What caught Benfield’s eye was the animal’s movement in water.
“Normally, they just move by this curious undulation of the dorsal fin, but when it wants to pick up the pace, it can serpentine quickly through the water,” Benfield said.
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Via Google/Discovery News
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