Oarfish: Sea Serpents of Mystery


The Oarfish has captivated the imaginations of mankind for centuries, often depicted in old stories as sea serpents or sea monsters. With its long eel like body that can grow to be over 50 feet long, it is no wonder how these amazing fish made it into the stories of old.  Though despite their spot light in ancient lore, people today know close to nothing about these remarkable fish.

They are silver in color, except for a pink red hue down either side of their large bodies and black or bluish spot, stripes, or squiggle like markings. The common belief is that most of these markings fade after death. Though it has no scales, like many of the fish category, the skin is covered with easily abraded, silvery guanine.  Its head and spine are lined with roughly 400 dorsal fins, depending on the size. Twelve of which are elongated to differing degrees to form a reddish crest decorated with flaps of skin or spots at the ends. The pelvic fins are equally elongated and colored, though are reduced to a fewer number, typically of five rays each.  The body itself comes to a tapering point.  They are believed to be given their name because they row themselves about with their pelvic fins. The head itself is somewhat difficult to describe, it has large eyes made for seeing well in the dark depths of the oceans it inhabits. The Oarfish has a relatively small oral cavity with no noticeable teeth, at least that could be found. They are categorized in the kingdom of Animalia in the family of Regalecidae, a word derived from the Latin word meaning Royal. There are regular Oarfish and then there are their cousins, the Giant Oarfish. Which by as far as we know can grow as large as 56 feet long but it is likely that there are some living that could easily be larger.

Two have floated up on the shores of California during the year of 2013.  Due to the deep sea habitats that keep these fish, it is extremely rare for one to come into contact with humans alive. Usually the only time we are made aware of them is when they die and their bodies float to the surface and occasionally end up on shore. The 14 foot Oarfish that was found in Southern California was discovered to have been in perfect health after a full necropsies — an animal version of an autopsy. Not only was she in perfect condition but they found in her six foot ovaries that she was ready to spawn and carrying hundreds of thousands of eggs.  “The Oarfish had lost her tail somehow during her life and there were several disc shaped wounds from cookie-cutter sharks, but these wounds wouldn’t have been enough to be fatal.” Stated H.J. Walker of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. The exact reason as to the oarfish’s death remains a mystery but one of Walker’s theory’s is that she swam too close to the surface and was knocked around by the waves.

“The deceased Oarfish that drift ashore don’t tell the entire story,” says a marine biologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “It’s like trying to study a deer killed on the road.” Though that may be true to a point, scientists are dissecting the Oarfish and sending preserved tissues and organs around to researchers around the world in hopes to learn more about this colossal creature.

Some today believe that Oarfish washed ashore is a sign of a major earth quake about to rock the area. Other people believe that the true cause to the unnatural deaths of some of these amazing fish is the pollution, which affects more than just these deep sea dwelling wonders. In truth, there is so much about marine life that people have yet to discover, either due to their abilities to elude us or the lack or technology to reach them yet.  Regardless, in our search for knowledge and understanding of creatures like the Oarfish and many others like it, both known and unknown, we should work to safeguard their existence. For who knows what role they play in this world of ours.


Oarfish babe

Written by: KyAuna Alonzo

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