Sunday, October 20, 2013

News From The Deep— Two Oarfish

Second oarfish in a week (Gary Bussey/AP)
Two oarfish have been found within a week on the Southern California coast. The first was a 18-foot long specimen and the second, a 14-footer. For lovers of the strange and wonderful sea around us, it's a rare glimpse at the world’s longest fish that lives in depths down to 3,000 feet.

For believers in omens, not so good for California: in Japanese folklore, these Ryugu-no-tsukai (Messengers from the Sea God’s Palace) are said to portend earthquakes.

According to the Wikipedia entry, much of what is known about oarfish (four species in temperate waters worldwide) comes from specimens found dead or dying on shore or on the surface of the water. The giant oarfish is the longest bony fish alive reaching 27 feet in length (not the 50+ feet sometimes reported). But big enough to be taken for a sea serpent.

Sex lives? Regalecus glesne in the Gulf of Mexico spawn in the latter part of the year, larvae hatch in three weeks, and larvae and juveniles drift below the surface before dropping down into the depths. Adults feed on zooplankton, jellyfish and squid.

Why “oar” fish? Probably because of the shape of the critter head to tail. It’s not because the fish ‘oars’ itself through the water using its fins. Watch this to see how it swims: Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico

Having two oarfish show up in a week might get some folks thinking about what the ocean’s telling us. It made me think that there’s another place on this planet where life is so strange and wonderful that even a few moments thinking about it took me completely outside my everyday self.

Sort of like another ‘oar,’ the one the seafaring Odysseus was told to carry inland until he met a people who did not know what an oar was. Only when he found such a people would he find peace. It took him 10 years to find peace.

These oarfish won’t bring peace, but a sense of wonder’s pretty nice. Go ahead, try it.

--Mike Sato


  1. I heard that about the Japanese earthquake omen and oarfish. Methinks it's another sign conditions are out of balance in our oceans. BTW did you by chance see the Werner Herzog documentary Encounters at the End of the World? Wonderful, about McMurdo Station on Antarctica and the characters/scientists who live there. Some amazing underwater footage of sea life down there.

    1. We probably have enough signs without beached oarfish to tell us that things are out of balance these days. Recalled the Herzog film when hearing reports of plugs being pulled on Antarctic research with the stupid government shutdown.


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