Two giant oarfish recently washed up on California beaches. The rare finding happening twice in one week led to lots of speculation about the reason for the strandings and the implications it might have for us. Some wondered if the oarfish are sick while others wondered if they were predicting an earthquake.
Scientists are taking this opportunity to learn everything they can from these giant fish. In the necropsy suite of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, scientists from NOAA and other universities gathered to dissect one.
They found that she was pregnant and healthy, she had a bite from a cookie cutter shark, and her stomach was empty. The cause of death is still unknown. Tissue samples are being preserved and sent around the world for further study. Researchers still hope to learn what oarfish eat and where they fit on the food chain, how they evolved and what their closest living relatives are. To learn more about the dissection, listen to the podcast from On the Line!
Facts about oarfish:
- The giant oarfish, Regalecus glesne, is the world’s largest bony fish. It can reach up to 56ft/17m and weigh up to 600lbs/270kg.
- They feed on tiny plankton (we think) and don’t even have real teeth.
- They are found worldwide in tropical and temperate waters but we rarely see them because they live as deep as 3,000 feet below the surface.
- Researchers suspect they only stay at the surface when stressed, injured or dying.
- The first video footage of a live oarfish was captured in 2001 by divers inspecting a navy buoy in the Bahamas. You can see the footage here.
- Oarfish might resemble an eel, but they don’t swim like one. Instead, they hang almost vertically in the water.
- Japanese lore says that oarfish surface and beach themselves as a sign of an impending earthquake. Fourteen washed ashore in Japan in March 2010, one year before the earthquake and tsunami in 2011. But can oarfish really predict earthquakes? The short answer is no. See below for more.
The following segment from ABC News is a great summary of the recent oarfish strandings and necropsy with Dr. Phil Hastings from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Hastings reminds us that there is no credible scientific evidence that suggests oarfish could predict earthquakes, nor do the fish have any sensory systems that would allow them to detect quakes. Furthermore, they live far from shore and wouldn’t be interacting with fault lines. Watch the whole segment for more detail.
Copyright © 2013 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.