2 giant oarfish wash onto California coast, making scientists curious

<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

It’s been the week of the oarfish along the Southern California coast.

A 14-foot oarfish carcass was discovered Friday by a snorkeler off the beach in Oceanside. Earlier in the week, an 18-foot oarfish was found dead off Catalina Island.

The oarfish is the world’s largest bony fish and lives mostly at great depths. Because of its size and menacing appearance, the oarfish may be the source of tales of sea serpents.

Oceanside police responding to Friday’s discovery contacted SeaWorld, the Scripps Institute of Oceanography and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Employees from NOAA removed the carcass for possible study.


Rick Feeney, ichthyology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told The Times earlier this week the giant oarfish only “wash up occasionally” because they’re typically in deep open ocean.

When oarfish come closer to shore, Feeney said it may be a sign of distress. They could be starving, disoriented or landed in shallower water because of a storm.

“They’re usually in the deep ocean, away from land,” Feeney said.

Giant oarfish get up to about 27 feet maximum, he said, adding that stories of them reaching 50 or more feet haven’t been verified.

A 12-foot oarfish washed ashore in Malibu in 2010, but it was a much smaller -- and thinner -- variety with its silvery scales and a scarlet red dorsal fin.

In recent years, researchers have captured video of an oarfish swimming deep underwater in the Gulf of Mexico and spotted one swimming not far from the shore in Baja California. But not since a group of Navy SEALS found a 23-foot-long oarfish off Coronado in 1996 has such a large oarfish been reported.

[For the Record, 9:30 a.m. PDT Oct. 21: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported that police responding to the discovery of the oarfish contacted the Scripps Research Institute. It was the Scripps Institute of Oceanography.]


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