Rare oarfish discovery is second in two years at Catalina


Oarfish discovered Monday at Catalina. Photo: Courtesy of Miranda Prado

The rare discovery of an oarfish, a creature believed to have long ago spawned tales of sea serpents, was made Monday at Santa Catalina Island off Southern California.

The 17-foot specimen was found by a harbor patrolman and by a woman leading a science camp kayaking trip near the west end of the island, which is the site of previous oarfish discoveries.

According to the Orange County Register, seagulls had been eating parts of the carcass, which required 16 people to haul ashore.

Oarfish are dwellers of dark depths, between 1,000 and 3,000 feet, and prey on tiny organisms such as krill as they slither through currents like serpents, gazing through large, saucer-shaped eyes.

They can reach 50 feet in length, and boast a crimson-colored dorsal fin that resembles a mane. Perhaps because of their bizarre appearance, they’re among critters who have generated tales of monsters and dragons that rise from the depths to steal crewmen and sink ships.


Oarfish foUnd in 2013 at Catalina. Photo: Courtesy of the Catalina Island Marine Institute

Usually, however, when oarfish are they're found at the surface, they're dead or nearly dead. Scientists are not sure why some oarfish rise to the surface to die.

Catalina, for reasons that remain unclear, is one of a handful of locations around the world where multiple oarfish have been found.

The last discovery at the island, which is 25 miles west of Los Angeles, was of an 18-foot specimen found in 2013, by a snorkeler near Avalon.

In 2006, a 15-foot live oarfish was found languishing near the surface. Harbormaster Doug Oudin snorkeled alongside the critter in the moments before it perished.

Among those participating in the collection of the 17-foot oarfish on Monday was Annie MacAulay, a marine scientist who was kayaking with science camp students.

"It was such a coincidence that I was here today," she told the Register. "I'm doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, so I'm not always at camp."

The modern discovery of oarfish may date to 1808, when a 56-foot serpent-like creature washed ashore in Scotland.

In 1901, a 22-foot oarfish drifted onto the sand in Newport Beach, California, becoming, according to one reference book, "the basis for many sea-serpent stories told by local bar patrons for more than a decade after its discovery."

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