Southern California’s Ominous Oarfish Discovery

oarfish carcass off the southern california coast

A marine science instructor off the coast of Southern California, 22 miles from the Port of Los Angeles discovered an 18-foot long Oarfish, a discovery said to be an ominous occurrence  in Japanese culture. The discovery was made on Sunday, October 13 2013, when Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute was leading a group of snorkelers in the crystalline waters of Toyon Bay.

The oarfish had clearly died from natural causes when Santana spotted the silvery creature on the sandy bed. The task to move the fish out the water took the combined efforts of 15 people. Being a rare discovery, staff and CIMI officials are excited about the finding of this strange fish.

An oarfish washed ashore on a Bermuda Beach in 1860 and the 16-foot creature became known as the sea serpent. Today, still little to none is known about this mysterious ocean dweller.

Oarfish is the common name given and was initially given on the presumption that the fish use their pelvic fins to row themselves, like a oar, through the water. This theory has since been discredited. The family name, Regalecidae, comes from the Latin regalis, which means royal. The oarfish is known in many traditional cultural tales as the mysterious sea serpent as they made their ominous appearances at what seemed like the foreshadowing of storms or death. While the ominous characteristic of the oarfish is not confirmed by the science labs, the discovery off the Coast of Southern California has still ignited an excitement within the marine science communities.

The rare encounters that have been made with divers and accidental catches are the only sources for understanding the oarfish. It is suspected that these animals are largely solitary and can travel to depths greater than 3 000 feet. The mystery of the sea serpent continues as reports were made of abnormal numbers of oarfish as they appeared in Japanese waters and some washed up on the beaches, foretelling the coming earthquakes between December 2009 and March 2010. The oarfish Regalecus russelii is known in Japanese folklore as the Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace.

The oarfish is the largest (longest) bony fish species as yet recorded. Tissue samples of the one found in Southern California on Sunday have been sent for examination to an expert situated at UC Santa Barbara.

The dorsal fin of the oarfish initiates from above the eyes and continues along the whole length of the fish. The dorsal fin is made up of approximately 400 dorsal fin rays. The beginning segment of the dorsal fin has fluctuating gradations of extended rays creating a peak with reddish, rusty spots. The pelvis fins are crafted in a similar fashion, with only one to five rays for each. The pectoral fins are comparatively small, sitting lower down on the silvery body. It is unclear whether or not the oarfish has an anal or caudal fin as the body narrows significantly towards the back end. No true spine has ever been detected in any of an oarfish’s fins. One report from New Zealand researchers indicates the live oarfish sends off electrical shocks when it is touched.

The oarfish live mainly throughout the Atlantic, Pacific and the Mediterranean, known to prefer depths of around 600 feet.

The Southern Californian coastline is buzzing with the discovery of the ominous carcass and hope to gain a better understanding of the oarfish. The CIMI’s focus is on developing and operating educational programs and is planning on letting the body of the oarfish decompose before placing the skeleton on display.

Jessica Rosslee

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