Imagine snorkeling in idyllic island waters and coming across something like this. That’s the sight marine science instructor Jasmine Santana was confronted with when swimming at Catalina Island, some 22 miles off the Californian coast. Thankfully for her, the creature was dead – so she grabbed it by the tail and hauled it ashore.
What Santana had found was the largely intact carcass of a giant oarfish, a member of the Regalecidae family that can grow to 17 metres in length (about three times as big as the one pictured above!). While oarfish are found all over the globe, they are rarely observed alive in their natural environment. One reason for that may be their ability to inhabit waters as deep as 1 kilometre (roughly 3000 feet). They do however have a habit of coming to the surface when sick or dying, and occasionally being beached during wild storms, and as such they may well be a source of many legends about sea serpents – for instance, the following illustration is of a 16-foot-long oarfish found on a Bermuda beach in 1860, and which was described at that time as a sea serpent.
Oarfish have on rare occasions been caught on video in their natural environment via remotely operated underwater vehicles – the following YouTube clip has some amazing footage of a ‘small’ oarfish:
Other folklore surrounding oarfish includes the Japanese belief that the appearance of the Slender Oarfish (Regalecus russelii) – the ‘Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace’ – in shallow coastal waters foretells impending earthquakes.
And while the newly discovered oarfish makes for an impressive photo, it still doesn’t top this 1996 photo of a 23-foot-long oarfish discovered by U.S. servicemen on the shore of a San Diego beach: