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Three Dead Oarfish in Japan and the Next Catastrophic Earthquake

IT’S AN OARFISH! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES! Okay, well not specifically because of the oarfish, but because of what it may presage, of course. When the stinking, rotting carcasses of these mysterious and massive fish wash ashore, bad things tend to happen. At least, that’s according to numerous examples of folklore and legends from around the world which say that the oarfish can predict catastrophic natural disasters. Where is the next big one set to strike?

On March 11, 2011, a 7.3 earthquake struck the Japanese coast. The resulting tsunami caused a cooling failure in one of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant's reactors.

Hopefully not Fukushima again.

If oarfish legends are true, Japan. Japanese netizens have been taking to social media to speculate and digitally gesticulate about what this deep sea harbinger may mean for the land of the rising sun. The body of the fish was found tangled in a fishing net on January 28 near the city of Imizu along Japan’s northwest coast and quickly taken to a nearby aquarium for analysis. The fish measured 4 meters in length. Shortly thereafter, two more dead oarfish were found on nearby beaches, prompting some Japanese social media users to predict the worst.

However, Hiroyuki Motomura, a professor of ichthyology at Kagoshima University, says there’s nothing to worry about and the legends about oarfish are just that. “I have around 20 specimens of this fish in my collection so it’s not a very rare species, but I believe these fish tend to rise to the surface when their physical condition is poor, rising on water currents, which is why they are so often dead when they are found,” Motomura told AsiaOne.com. “The link to reports of seismic activity goes back many, many years, but there is no scientific evidence of a connection so I don’t think people need to worry.”

Oarfish can measure up to 11 meters (36 feet) in length.

Naturally, science blogs around the internet are clamoring to report on the oarfish in the name of “ANOTHER MYTH SMASHED!” as they do. Most scientists discount the belief that dead oarfish foreshadow oncoming natural disasters, although there is some anecdotal evidence of these incidents lining up. Of course, there are plenty of more examples of dead oarfish without any catastrophic earthquakes, so make what you will of these supposedly supernatural fish corpses.

Time will tell for Japan. Let’s hope this one is just a myth.