Oarfish Mystery: Why Are They Washing Ashore?

Two rarely seen sea creatures washed up on Southern California beaches within a week and no one seems to know why.

One 18-foot oarfish was found off Catalina Island on October 13 and another, slightly smaller one, at Oceanside Harbor on October 18.

"It's so rare to find in Southern California, especially in surface water," Suzanne Kohin, of the National Marine Fisheries Service told GMA. "They thought it was a very rare event the first time, so these two events that we heard of in the last few weeks are the only ones I've ever heard of."

When we emailed Kohin asking for a possible explanation, she said she doesn't have one, yet. "I have no idea why there have been two oarfish strandings a in such a short time. It certainly is a mystery and we have yet to fully examine the latest specimen." She added there was no evidence that either died of unnatural causes and that, "I am sure it would be difficult to determine whether the two strandings were related."

According to the NOAA website, oarfish "probably only come to the surface when injured or dying."

Rick Feeney, ichthyology collections manager at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, told the LA Times earlier this week that the reasons for an oarfish to surface on the shore could be because they are starving, disoriented or landed in shallower water because of a storm.

He dismissed stories that they can reach 50 more more feet, saying that they are usually 27 feet, maximum.

The last known oarfish stranding in SoCal was in Malibu in 2010, but it was a smaller and thinner variety, the Times reports. One was also found onshore in Cabo San Lucas last year.

A reader alerted us on Facebook to the theory that oarfish strandings are considered an omen of an impending major earthquake.

According to traditional Japanese lore, the Daily Telegraph wrote in 2010, the fish rise to the surface and beach themselves to warn of an impending quake.

Shortly before the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, about 20 oarfish stranded themselves on Japanese beaches, suggesting the fish could possibly have known that the temblor was coming, Mark Benfield, a researcher at Louisiana State University who's remotely videotaped the mysterious creature, told Live Science earlier this year. Or of course, as he added, it could just be a coincidence.

However, Japanese folkore has long connected the two. "In ancient times Japanese people believed that fish warned of coming earthquakes, particularly catfish," Hiroshi Tajihi, deputy director of the Kobe Earthquake Centre, told the Daily Telegraph. He dismissed the connection as "older superstitions," saying, "there is no scientific relationship between these sightings and an earthquake."

Earlier this year, sea lions were beaching themselves in record numbers along California beaches, which experts speculated might be due to a lack of food fish.

A rare 15-foot Stejneger's beaked whale washed ashore in Venice Beach on October 15, but no one knows whether that's related to the oarfish strandings.

So, either we're all doomed or it's just been a banner week for weird fish photo ops.

Related:
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