National Geographic Daily News
Video credit: ©Shedd Aquarium/Un-Cruise Adventures

Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published April 8, 2014

A pair of rarely seen, bizarre deep-sea creatures, thought to have been the inspiration for historic tales of "sea serpents," were captured on a video (see above) posted online Monday.

The footage, filmed by staff from Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, shows two giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne) swimming near a beach in shallow water in Baja, California.

"It was one of the most stunningly beautiful fish I've ever seen," says Tim Binder, vice president of collection and planning for the Shedd Aquarium, who recorded much of the video. It was shot in early March in a remote area north of La Paz, near Isla San Francisco.

The giant oarfish is the world's longest bony fish and can reach a length of 56 feet (17 meters) and weigh up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms). The fish had bright silver patterns with blue spots and a dramatic crown. "They had an undulating way of swimming; it was very graceful," says Binder.

Beached and Expired

Binder says the fish swam around for 20 to 30 minutes. "They just kept trying to beach themselves," Binder says. Eventually, they did flop up on the beach; after that, "it didn't take long for them to expire."

Because of their large size, and because the trip was not a collecting expedition—it was an ecotourism expedition for aquarium members—Binder's team were not able to take the specimens for study.

Although the behavior has been documented before, scientists can't explain why the fish beached themselves. Such beachings are most common in areas near upwellings of water from the deep. The area where the oarfish were recorded fits that description, Binder says.

Still, the odds of being on this remote beach at that moment were negligible, and the chance encounter provided, he says, "quite a spectacular opportunity."

The Oarfish's Strange History

Oarfish were first described in 1772, but are rarely seen because they live at depths estimated to be around 3,300 feet (1,000 meters).

The silvery fish, sometimes called the "king of herrings" because of their resemblance to the smaller fish, are named oarfish because of their long pectoral fins, which resemble oars. They are also known as ribbonfish because of their slender form, or rooster fish because of their crown of fins.

In October 2013, staff at the Catalina Island Marine Institute found the body of a dead 18-foot-long (5.5-meter-long) oarfish in Toyon Bay on California's Catalina Island.

It took 15 people to haul the giant beast onto shore.

In June 2013, National Geographic reported on a rare video, taken near the Gulf of Mexico in 2011, of a swimming giant oarfish in the deep.

Not much is known about the oarfish's conservation status because it is so difficult to study. The fish are occasionally pulled up as bycatch in fishing nets. They are thought to occupy a broad range, and to feed on krill, small crustaceans, and squid.

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21 comments
Professor Hess
Professor Hess

It's not "Baja, California" it is 'Baja California Sur'. Baja California is the Mexican state along the border with the US, Baja California Sur is the southern half of the peninsula.  

Rudolph Furtado
Rudolph Furtado

Excellent video and thanks for educating us readers on a rare sighting of the once mythological sea-serpent.

Janice Brown
Janice Brown

Amazing I've never seen such an large fish as this, question will it harm a human? And it would frighten me , what's going to be done about this?  

Maloudenn Gapuz
Maloudenn Gapuz

just checking out the surface...damn humans so shallow and noisy hahaha!

Jaginder Singh
Jaginder Singh

Evolution, it was checking out if its worth its time to grow legs. Changed its mind as soon as it saw that land is as polluted. The humans were annoying too. :P

Clark Pahpasay
Clark Pahpasay

predetor? out there in the deep waiting for them to back i think?

Mark Mack
Mark Mack

So cool to see them alive and swimming. But, why did they just watch them beach themselves and die? Why not push them back out? As many times as possible or necessary?

N A
N A

Maybe their attempts at beaching is similar to what caused life to evolve out of the oceans and back onto land.

Tom Bush
Tom Bush

What an amazing video, hopefully the scientists can figure out why they were there and what may have caused them to beach themselves.

Joy Saldanha
Joy Saldanha

What amazing creatures, and catching them on video was a lucky break. I guess we dont really know just why they beach themselves, only guess at it. This is the sad part,to .see them end their lives this way. j.e.s......

Cher Renke
Cher Renke

These fish are amazing... beautiful...  truly look like something make-believe!!!  Sad though that they then beached themselves... 

Brian Howard
Brian Howard expert

@Janice Brown Hi. Scientists say oarfish are harmless to people, despite their bizarre appearance.

Zulfadhli Wan Muhd
Zulfadhli Wan Muhd

maybe they went up to beach because they try to run from dead zone in the deep sea that has been emerging in the sea bed around the world!!they became so afraid of the dead zone that they no longer want to turn back to that direction...a zone where oxygen is depleted because of global warming...

Brian Howard
Brian Howard expert

@Mark Mack I wasn't there, but I think they thought the animals were ready to die and were expiring. This phenomenon has been reported before, that oarfish come up from the deep and die on beaches. Scientists don't know why they do that. Maybe it is like the pet cats that slink off to be alone to die? Just a guess.

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