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What Scientists Know So Far About The Mysterious Oarfish Washing Ashore

Catalina Island Marine Institute instructors with the 18-foot oarfish. (Used with permission/CIMI)
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Ever since two gigantic oarfish washed up on the shores of California in one week, people have been speculating the reasons behind the bizarre occurrence. It's a rarity to see the elusive fish as it's known to dwell up to 3,000 below the sea. Some have even taken the oarfish sightings as a bad omen for a major earthquake from a Japanese superstition.

The first sea creature was an 18-foot behemoth found on off of Catalina Island on Oct. 13. The second one, a 14-footer found in Oceanside Harbor, was dissected by scientists on Oct. 21 to be examined for their cause of death and a toxicology report. In the meantime, scientists have been weighing in on the reasons they think the deep-sea dwellers—who rarely are seen dead or alive—have surfaced.

Russ Vetter, director of the Fisheries Resources Program at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, was one of the scientists who dissected the fish. What he knows about the oarfish is that she was female and was fresh when she washed up on shore. "The fish came up in a good enough condition that you could eat it," he told KPCC. In addition, he said there were no signs that she was physically attacked by other sea creatures or even hurt by a boat, nor that she suffered from a nutritional deficiency.

However, other scientists are interested in seeing what's inside of the stomachs of the oarfishes to see what they had been eating, as reported by NBC San Diego.

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Milton Love, a research biologist, believes the sea serpent was carried away by the current from its normal still-waters habitat, and was unable to survive in the turbulent waters, according to The Los Angeles Times. In addition to that, oarfish are thought of to be poor swimmers. The Huffington Post reports:

"If they get disoriented and into the surf zone, they'll probably have trouble maneuvering back out to sea," said Phil Hastings, curator of the marine vertebrate collection at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

In the meantime, we'll wait with bated breath to hear back from the dissection results.

UPDATE 10/23/2013, 9:45 AM: It turns out the oarfish was preggers! Scientists who studied the dissected sea creature discovered the healthy fish had thousands of eggs in her ovaries ready to be released. She also lost her tail, but they don't know why, and she had some wounds from cookiecutter sharks that were not big enough to be fatal, according to CBS Los Angeles.

Related stories:
Surfer Describes His Rare, Strange Encounter With An Oarfish
Second Oarfish In A Week Washes Ashore
Rare 18-Foot Oarfish Found Off of Catalina Island