Two rare oarfish were found dead in southern California this past week. The first one, measuring 18 feet in length, was found just off of Catalina Island in about twenty feet of water. The second one, measuring just under 14 feet long, was found last Friday, October 18th, on an Oceanside beach. Both are rare occurrences as this species normally spends it life in water with depths over 1000 meters. But, when sick and dying, they frequently float or swim at or near the surface.
Little is known about the oarfish, a member of the lamprid , or ray-finned fish family. Its name comes from the old, but dis-proven, belief that they used their pelvic fins in an oar-like fashion. Instead, it propels itself by using its dorsal fins while keeping their bodies straight. It is said to have a world-wide range, but is almost never seen except when they are sick or dead. Rarely are they caught alive and are not considered good eating. This fish is known to grow up to 30 feet, but rumors have put this species at being up towards 50 feet.
There is much lore around the oarfish throughout history. In Japan, their presence was said to predict bad storms and earthquakes. In 2010, an unusual number of oarfish were found either washed up on Japan’s beaches or floating near the surface after a series of earthquakes in various parts of the world. More oarfish began washing up onshore a week before the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. It is speculated that the fish may be sensitive to changes in seismic activities, though this has not been proven scientifically. Oarfish may also be the source of other legends about sea serpents and sea monsters.
Oarfish have washed up on southern California shores in the past. In 1996, a 23 foot oarfish was discovered, by military personnel, washed up near Coronado. Another oarfish is said to have washed up in southern California ten years previously. In 2010, a 12 foot oarfish washed up on a Malibu beach.