Oarfish inspired ancient sea tales - expert


An 18-foot-long oarfish washed up last week on Catalina Island. It was a rare occurrence until another oarfish popped up dead in Oceanside on Friday.

The two oarfish were big attention grabbers for obvious reason.

"People are attracted to it almost like [they're] attracted to aliens or something," said Rick Feeney, who is in charge of the fish collection at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.

Feeney says the mysterious oarfish, which is usually found in deep waters of the open sea 500 to 1,000 feet down, was an inspiration for ancient sea tales when it would only occasionally break the waves.

"In older times, it was probably the basis for sea serpent stories because of the way it swims at the surface. Its dorsal fin breaks the water and it's swimming in a snake-like fashion," said Feeney.

But you don't have to dive hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the sea to go face-to-face with an oarfish. You can visit the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. There's a 14.5-feet oarfish on display.

Amazingly, that is only about half the size of the biggest one ever recorded, which was a 27-footer, according to Feeney.

He admits there's a lot we don't know about oarfish, but if you want to make this oarfish expert chuckle, ask him about the Japanese legend that when these guys surface and die, major earthquakes follow.

"That probably is a hoax. A lot of these stories are legends and urban legends and things like that," said Feeney.

But the mysterious fish is still a big draw for biologists. Autopsies on the two recent oarfish are being conducted as they try to figure out what the big fish ate and why they died.

The skeleton of the 18-foot oarfish is expected to go on display at the Catalina Island Marine Institute.

Copyright © 2021 KABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.