How rare are the giant oarfish that live off the coast of California? Rare enough that the only time they’re seen is when they wash ashore dead. Rare enough that when their bodies are found on a beach, it’s a cause for alarm among those who believe that their deaths are a harbinger for a catastrophic event, like an earthquake or a tsunami. So what does it mean when a live oarfish comes up to the surface from its deep sea realm? Californians are about to find out.
A live oarfish (Regalecus glesne) was caught by a rod-and-reel fisherman for the first time to anyone’s knowledge near Santa Catalina Island off the southern California coast. If that location sounds familiar, it’s because a dead oarfish was found on one of the island’s beaches on June 1st of this year and another washed up just 18 months before that. The live sea monster was caught by a passenger on the fishing boat Fortune, according to the boat’s captain, Bruce Smith.
Yeah, we caught an oarfish today. It was very surprising, a once in a lifetime thing to even see one.
Most likely the only time in that oarfish’s lifetime too. Because the deep sea fish was caught at a depth of only 30 feet (they normally swim at a depth of 1,000 meters (3,300 feet)), it was most like sick or dying. The crew didn’t do the poor fish any favors by trying to gaff it and drag it onboard, but the hook tore the soft flesh and the oarfish either swam or floated away.
That makes three oarfish – dead or barely alive - in 19 months in the waters surrounding Santa Catalina Island and another dead pregnant female found on the nearby coast in Oceanside. Japanese folklore tells that the dragon god of the sea sends oarfish to warn of impending earthquakes. Science tells us that gases released by underwater fissures – a scientific warning of earthquakes – may be killing the oarfish.
What was this live oarfish trying to tell Californians … and possibly the rest of us … with its last dying breaths?