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Surfer Describes His Rare, Strange Encounter With An Oarfish

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A surfer described his rare and up-close encounter with an oarfish just off the coast of Oceanside this week just hours before it washed ashore.

Jeff Caldwell lives in Brooklyn and back home he surfs The Rockaways, but this week he was on the West Coast visiting family. He decided to head to Oceanside Harbor to catch some waves by himself around 11 a.m. on Friday morning. He told LAist that he was in chest-high water when he noticed something silvery and scaleless floating by. He knew that it was dead, but he couldn't figure out exactly what it was: "The only thing that came to my mind was that it was a slab of a whale."

It was surprisingly flat, and he couldn't see the entire fish. Caldwell was curious about whatever sea creature he had found, but he was wearing contacts so he couldn't open his eyes underwater to see the fish in its entirety. Now that he's seen pictures of the 13.5-foot fish, he realizes that he only saw the tail of the creature—the head was sunken below the water.

Caldwell touched the fish and tried to put his surfboard under it, but it was heavy. And though it was clearly dead, it was moving because a current was carrying it along. Caldwell went to the line-up of surfers to try to see if he could encourage them to help him haul whatever he had found in, but they weren't interested. About 20 minutes later, he went to check on the fish, but it had already drifted out of sight.

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At lunch later that day, he was telling a friend about his encounter with what he assumed was some sort of whale flesh. That's when his friend told him about the oarfish discovered in Catalina. He looked up information about oarfish but figured that it was unlikely that's what he actually came across: "That's impossible, that's so rare."

Oarfish beachings are rare, and scientists are trying to figure out exactly what might have caused two to wash ashore within the span of the week.

But later that evening a group of 15 people at Oceanside Harbor came across an oarfish that washed ashore. For Caldwell, this is the one that got away: "[I] kicked myself for not making guys in lineup drag whatever it was in when we saw it."

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