Most people appreciate smoke alarms, weather radar images and other signs that a disaster may be imminent and it would be a good idea to head to safer ground. When seventeen feet worth of earthquake warning in the form of a dead oarfish washed up on the shore of South Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles this week, Californians got worried – especially since this is the second rare “messenger from the sea god’s palace” to be deposited on the island in 18 months. Is it time to listen?
The Japanese say yes. The giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) is known in Japanese folklore as “ryugu no tsukai” - a messenger from Ryūjin, the dragon god of the sea, bearing warnings that some shaking is about to go on.
And some shaking DID go on. The oarfish washed up on South Catalina Island on Monday, June 1. On Tuesday, June 2, the U.S. Geological Service reported an earthquake in the area with the center being just north of the oarfish. It was most likely caused by Santa Cruz-Catalina Ridge and Ferrelo Fault in the waters off of Southern California. You don’t need a dead oarfish to tell you that’s where South Catalina Island is located.
Coincidence? Tell that to the people who ignored 20 dead oarfish on beaches hit by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The off-shore faults run north up the California coast to Washington and beyond. That includes Oregon, where a number of earthquakes were recorded in its coastal waters on June 1. Does that date ring a bell?
The 17-foot oarfish that washed up on June 1 was larger than the 10-footer from October 2013. Is this a bigger warning? Are we going to wait until a record-setting 50-footer shows up before we decide to heed the message? Don’t forget, scientists have said that the release of carbon monoxide by underwater earthquakes could be poisoning the huge fish and causing them to beach and die.
So why are the people in those pictures smiling?