Science Teacher Finds 18-Foot Oarfish Off Catalina Island

The ocean really is the final frontier. We’ve been to the Moon (unless you’re a conspiracy theorist who thinks we haven’t been), but we’ve barely studied the oceans, mainly because of how vast and deep they are. People have been talking for centuries about sea serpents and giant squids, and it has just been recently that science has been able to confirm these reports. The latest story making the rounds is about a marine biologist who was snorkeling and came across a dead specimen of what most people blame for sea serpent reports: the oarfish. And at 18 feet long, it was quite a find.

I'm pretty tempted to run a caption contest for this photo...
I’m pretty tempted to run a caption contest for this photo…

‘Nobody’s going to believe me,’ thought Jasmine Santana, 26, of the Catalina Island Marine Institute as she decided to remove the fabled dead fish from the ocean. With the help of other instructors, the fish, thought to be the sea serpent of sailing legends, was brought to shore.

The dread of the ancient mariner is the dream of the marine biologist.

A science instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute in California discovered a rare 18-foot oarfish while leisurely snorkeling Sunday afternoon. The oarfish, the longest bony fish species, is rarely seen — dead or alive — and many believe it is the explanation for mythical sea serpent sightings of eras past.

Jasmine Santana, 26, discussed the once-in-a-lifetime find with the Daily News, starting with when she spotted the dead fish on the sandy floor of Toyon Bay.

“I was thinking, ‘What could this be?’ It’s so big! We usually don’t have anything that long in our bay. … We snorkel here almost daily, so it’s crazy to find this,” she said.

Santana got nervous, and her heart started beating faster as she realized it was an oarfish because she had seen a rare video of a smaller one.

“I don’t have my camera with me. Nobody’s going to believe me!” she thought, swimming around the fish to make sure it was dead. She swam to shore to get a pair of gloves and returned to the silvery fish.

First, she tried to lift it by the head, which was too heavy, so she grabbed it by the tail and managed to propel herself toward the surface. It was too heavy for her to get onto the shore, but fortunately other instructors, who were returning from a boat trip at the time, rushed over to help.

“About 15 more of the staff got down to lug it out and bring it on shore,” said Jeff Chace, a CIMI program director. “I’ve been here for a little over 10 years, and I’ve not seen one at all.”

CIMI’s longest-serving employee, Mark Johnson, has worked at Toyon Bay for 32 years, and he, too, has never seen anything like it.

Oarfish, which can reach 56 feet in length, live in temperate to tropical waters but are thought to dive more than 3,000 feet down into the darker depths of the ocean, which has rendered their behavior largely unobserved and unstudied.

Owing to this, an aura of mystery still shrouds the oarfish, but it’s nothing when compared with its reputation centuries ago.

“People always wondered if old-time sailors saw this unusual animal in the ocean and wondered if it was some kind of sea serpent,” Chace said.

“It used to scare people,” Santana added. “It is believed that oarfish is what the (sea serpent) stories were based off because of its long tapered body.”

Far from the ferocious monsters of legend, the oarfish has a that physiology suggests it is relatively harmless, Santana explained. It does not have a sharp, big jaw like many other ocean predators, but scientists simply do not know enough about it … yet.

CIMI sent tissue samples and footage to Milton Love, a fish expert with the University of California at Santa Barbara, for analysis.

The oarfish is currently on ice, but Chace wants to bury it on the beach in the hope that other animals will eat away its remaining tissue so that CIMI can display its skeleton.

Can the oarfish be the explanation for centuries of sea serpent sighting? Probably not. But it’s as good a candidate as any. But maybe there’s something even bigger and creepier looking swimming in the depths, only coming to the surface occasionally, that we have yet to discover…

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