In a rare occurrence earlier this month, off the coast of Southern California, a giant oarfish washed up on the beach. Then, in an even rarer instance, a second oarfish carcass washed ashore five days later. Oarfish are a deep-water species, and seeing one, much less two, is considered a once-in-a-lifetime event. Their sudden appearance at such close intervals of time has caused widespread claims that an impending earthquake will soon strike Southern California.
According to Japanese lore, the oarfish is called the “messenger from the sea god’s palace.” And rightly so, because not long after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake off the coast of Japan that created a devastating tsunami, about twenty oarfish also washed up on the beaches nearby. The same phenomenon occurred in Chile before an 8.8-magnitude earthquake struck in March 2010.
As denizens of the deep ocean, oarfish “are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea,” said Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a specialist in ecological seismology. This ties in with how animals have long been linked to providing early warning signals to impending earthquakes and even to volcanic eruptions. Historical documents have reported anecdotes of how wildlife fauna, pets, and even zoo animals acted “strangely” in the weeks, days, and minutes before humans could sense any ground-shaking. Likewise, documents abound about how animals behaved in unusual fashion before the volcanic eruptions of Mount Vesuvius in antiquity and even to Mount St. Helens prior to its now-famous 1980 eruption.
Research teams are thereby studying just what it is that various species are attuned to so that a more accurate early warning system for temblors can be in place for humans as well. In any case, the succession of two stranded oarfish in Southern California certainly has many in the area concerned about the arrival of a possible earthquake for the Golden State.