Southern Californians were treated to a double entrée of deep-sea fish when two giant oarfish washed ashore less than a week apart. The first was an 18-foot oarfish found near Catalina Island; the second was a 13½ foot oarfish that washed up in Oceanside. Photos of these mysterious “sea serpents” drew attention all over the Internet, including social media, because of how rare oarfish sightings are.
Little is known about the enigmatic oarfish, which live in deep waters and normally stick to depths of up to 3,300 feet. The giant, serpent-shaped fish can grow to be 55 feet in length, and has a dorsal fin running the entire length of its body.
The only information we have about the oarfish comes from the handful of them that have washed ashore over the years. The discovery of the two oarfish in California has led scientists from every corner to scramble for a piece of the rare fish to study.
“People from all around the world are desperate for a piece of tissue,” Russ Vetter, who assisted in the smaller fish's dissection at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in San Diego, told the Los Angeles Times.
The smaller fish ended up at the center for analysis, and was carved up so researchers could study the creature’s organs and gain insight about the fish’s evolution. Scientists are also testing the oarfish’s DNA and looking for toxins in its tissue.
“If all you knew about deer was road kill … how much would you actually know about deer?” Milton Love, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara, told the LA Times. “That’s kind of where we are with oarfish.”
But why did they die in the first place? Scientists say it may be no coincidence that the two fish came ashore at roughly the same time.
According to The Los Angeles Times, the most likely cause of the oarfish deaths was a current that carried the weak-muscled serpents from their deep-water homes into more turbulent waters where they are not adapted to survive.
Others see an omen in the appearances of the oarfish. According to ABC.Net, some people drew parallels between the appearances of the two oarfish and a myth from Japan that says an oarfish is a sign that an earthquake is near.