The body of a giant oarfish, a creature that could inspire stories of sea monsters, washed up on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles and was found June 1. This creature is 17 feet in length, was named because of its resemblance to an oar and is said to have inspired sailors to tell stories of sea serpents.
The giant fish is of particular interest to scientists because they have not yet been studied in great detail. They inhabit an area of about 3000 feet in depth, which make them difficult to examine. Very little is known about their population and behavior so this finding is a very good opportunity to learn more about them.
Several parts of the oarfish including the head, guts and reproductive tract were removed from the fish and sent to California State University where they will be studied by experts. It is still unknown why the fish died.
The few sightings of these fish in their natural habitat have revealed they float vertically in the water with their heads pointing up. Betrand Loyer, who produced a movie about them, described this behaviour as “really a stunning vision of beauty, of grace.”
David Chan, who dissected the important parts of fish, said it appeared to be missing its tail so this oarfish may have been even longer than it appears. Oarfish without full tails is not an uncommon occurrence says Tyson Roberts, an expert in oarfish and author of a book about them. Oarfish have the ability to detach their tail if they feel threatened in a process of autotomy.
When the oarfish was found, there was evidence of scavenging by seabirds so it was important to dissect the parts of interest quickly to avoid damage and decay.
Amy Catalano and her co-worker are said to be the first people to discover the washed up carcass while they were perfuming a surgery on birds on the area. She said, “It was amazing, it felt like a movie prop. It looked make-believe almost.”
Several oarfish have washed up on west coast beaches in the past few years including two in the space of one week in 2013 in southern California. One of them was found by a group of third graders who initially thought it resembled a ‘giant eel.’
Oarfish are the world’s largest known bony fish reaching a maximum length of about 50 feet and can weight up to 600 pounds. Although not much is known about them, they are thought to eat tiny plankton.
It will be very interesting to see what we will learn about this giant fish in the near future as study results are published by the scientists working with the various parts.