Oarfish are large, greatly elongated, pelagic lampriform fish belonging to the small family Regalecidae. Found in all temperate to tropical oceans yet rarely seen, the oarfish family contains four species in two genera. One of these, the giant oarfish (Regalecus glesne), is the longest bony fish alive, growing to up to 11 m (36 ft) in length.
The common name oarfish is thought to be in reference either to their highly compressed and elongated bodies, or to the now discredited belief that the fish "row" themselves through the water with their pelvic fins. The family name Regalecidae is derived from the Latin regalis, meaning "royal". The occasional beachings of oarfish after storms, and their habit of lingering at the surface when sick or dying, make oarfish a probable source of many sea serpent tales.
Although the larger species are considered game fish and are fished commercially to a minor extent, oarfish are rarely caught alive; their flesh is not well regarded due to its gelatinous consistency.
Anatomy and morphology
The dorsal fin originates from above the (relatively small) eyes and runs the entire length of the fish. Of the approximately 400 dorsal fin rays, the first 10 to 12 are elongated to varying degrees, forming a trailing crest embellished with reddish spots and flaps of skin at the ray tips. The pelvic fins are similarly elongated and adorned, reduced to one to five rays each. The pectoral fins are greatly reduced and situated low on the body. The anal fin is completely absent and the caudal fin may be reduced or absent, as well, with the body tapering to a fine point. All fins lack true spines. At least one account, from researchers in New Zealand, described the oarfish as giving off "electric shocks" when touched.
Like other members of its order, the oarfish has a small yet highly protrusible oblique mouth with no visible teeth. The body is scaleless and the skin is covered with easily abraded, silvery guanine. In the streamer fish (Agrostichthys parkeri), the skin is clad with hard tubercles. All species lack gas bladders and the number of gill rakers is variable.
Oarfish coloration is also variable; the flanks are commonly covered with irregular bluish to blackish streaks, black dots, and squiggles. These markings quickly fade following death. The giant oarfish is by far the largest member of the family at a published total length of 11 m (36 ft)—with unconfirmed reports of 17 m (56 ft) specimens—and 270 kg (600 lb) in weight. The streamer fish is known to reach 3 m (10 ft) in length, whilst the largest recorded specimen of Regalecus russelii measured 5.4 m (18 ft).
The members of the family are known to have a worldwide range. However, human encounters with live oarfish are rare, and distribution information is collated from records of oarfish caught or washed ashore.
Encounters with two washed-up oarfish occurred in Southern California in October 2013.
Ecology and life history
Rare encounters with divers and accidental catches have supplied what little is known of oarfish behaviour and ecology. Apparently solitary animals, oarfish may frequent significant depths up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft). An oarfish measuring 3.3 m (11 ft) and 63.5 kg (140 lb) was reported to have been caught on 17 February 2003 by Ms Val Fletcher using a fishing rod baited with squid, at Skinningrove, United Kingdom.
A photograph on display in bars, restaurants, guesthouses, and markets around Laos and Thailand captioned "Queen of Nāgas was seized by the American Army at Mekhong River, Laos Military Base, on June 27, 1973, with the length of 7.80 metres" is, as far as the caption goes, a hoax. The photograph was taken by Dr. Leo Smith of the Field Museum, of an oarfish found in September 1996 by United States Navy SEAL trainees on the coast of Coronado, California.
In 2001, an oarfish was filmed alive in situ: the 1.5-metre (4.9-foot) fish was spotted by a group of U.S. Navy personnel during the inspection of a buoy in the Bahamas. The oarfish was observed to propel itself by an amiiform mode of swimming; that is, rhythmically undulating the dorsal fin whilst keeping the body itself straight. Perhaps indicating a feeding posture, oarfish have been observed swimming in a vertical orientation, with their long axis perpendicular to the ocean surface. In this posture, the downstreaming light would silhouette the oarfishes' prey, making them easier to spot.
In July 2008, scientists captured footage of the rare fish swimming in its natural habitat in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the first ever confirmed sighting of an oarfish at depth, as most specimens are discovered dying at the sea surface or washed ashore. The fish was estimated to be between 5 and 10 m (16 and 33 ft) in length.
As part of the SERPENT Project, five observations of apparently healthy oarfish Regalecus glesne by remotely operated vehicles were reported from the northern Gulf of Mexico between 2008 and 2011 at depths within the epipelagic and mesopelagic zones. These observations include the deepest verified record of R. glesne (463–492 m (1,519–1,614 ft)).
From December 2009 to March 2010, unusual numbers of the slender oarfish Regalecus russelii (竜宮の使い “Ryūgū-No-Tsukai”,) known in Japanese folklore as the Messenger from the Sea God's Palace, appeared in the waters and on the beaches of Japan, the appearance of which is said to portend earthquakes.
Oarfish feed primarily on zooplankton, selectively straining tiny euphausiids, shrimp, and other crustaceans from the water. Small fish, jellyfish, and squid are also taken. Large open-ocean carnivores are all likely predators of oarfish.
The oceanodromous Regalecus glesne is recorded as spawning off Mexico from July to December; all species are presumed to not guard their eggs, and release brightly coloured, buoyant eggs, up to 6 mm (0.24 in) across, which are incorporated into the zooplankton. The eggs hatch after about three weeks into highly active larvae that feed on other zooplankton. The larvae have little resemblance to the adults, with long dorsal and pelvic fins and extensible mouths. Larvae and juveniles have been observed drifting just below the surface. In contrast, adult oarfish are rarely seen at the surface when not sick or injured. Oarfish are most likely responsible for many mythical sightings of sea serpents.
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2005). "Regalecidae" in FishBase. February 2005 version.
- Pete Thomas, Blue Demons, The Los Angeles Times, August 26, 2006.
- Fishes: An Introduction to ichthyology. Peter B. Moyle and Joseph J. Cech, Jr; p. 338. Printed in 2004. Prentice-Hall, Inc; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey. ISBN 0-13-100847-1
- Froese, Rainer, and Daniel Pauly, eds. (2007). "Regalecidae" in FishBase. March 2007 version.
- Olney, John E. (1998). Paxton, J.R. & Eschmeyer, W.N., ed. Encyclopedia of Fishes. San Diego: Academic Press. pp. 157–159. ISBN 0-12-547665-5.
- Bourton, Jody. Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico. BBC Earth News
- Douglas Quenqua. Oarfish Offer Chance to Study an Elusive Animal Long Thought a Monster. New York Times. 2 November 2013
- Burton, Maurice; Burton, Robert (2002). International Wildlife Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). New York: Marshall Cavendish. pp. 1767–1768. ISBN 0-7614-7279-7.
- "Agrostichthys parkeri (Benham, 1904) Streamer fish". FishBase Consortium. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
- "Regalecus russelii (Cuvier, 1816) species summary". FishBase Consortium. Retrieved 2013-11-03.
- "Quake rumours over new beached 'sea serpent' in US". BBC News. 22 October 2013. Retrieved 22 October 2013.
- Jenkins, Russell (21 February 2003). "Woman angler lands legendary sea monster". The Times, London. Retrieved 25 February 2010. "The novice angler fishing off the rocks for mackerel thought that she must have hooked a big one. – Unfortunately the oarfish has been cut up into steaks for the pot."
- Ranges, Trevor (2002 – 2006). "A Big Fish Tale". thailandroad.com. p. 2. "We were on our morning physical fitness run when we came across this huge fish lying on the sand."
- JOSN Jojm; photos by LT DeeDee Van Wormer (April 1997). "SEALs and a serpent of the sea" (PDF). ALL HANDS. Naval Media Center. pp. 20–21. "The silvery serpent of the sea – an oarfish – was discovered last year by Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Instructor Signalman 2nd Class (SEAL) Kevin Blake."
- "Sustainability species Identification; Oarfish (Regalecus glesne Ascanius)". NOAA Fisheries service. Retrieved 28 September 2012.
- Bourton, Jody (2010-02-08). "Giant bizarre deep sea fish filmed in Gulf of Mexico". BBC. Retrieved 2010-02-09.
- Benfield, M.C. (5 June 2013). "Five in situ observations of live oarfish Regalecus glesne (Regalecidae) by remotely operated vehicles in the oceanic waters of the northern Gulf of Mexico". Journal of Fish Biology. Retrieved 10 June 2013.
- Yamamoto, Daiki (4 Mar 2010). "Sea serpents' arrival puzzling, or portentous?". Kyodo News. Retrieved 6 Mar 2010. "TOYAMA — A rarely seen deep-sea fish regarded as something of a mystery has been giving marine experts food for thought recently after showing up in large numbers along the Sea of Japan coast."
- Pete Thomas (2013–06–06). "ROV captures first-ever footage of oarfish in the wild". http://www.grindtv.com/.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Regalecus.|
- Deepsea footage of a live oarfish, BBC website
- Oarfish pictures and information, including the truth about one Internet hoax
- Live Oarfish in La Paz Mexico in La Paz Mexico. Newsgroup entry with photos, 5-08-2007.
- 9-metre oarfish beached in Mexico, Newsgroup entry with photos 9-01-07.
- Beached in Cabo San Lucas October 12, 2012, Article and pictures
- Discussion of an oarfish sighting by an undersea remote vehicle, Huffington Post
- Video and Photos of Oarfish: while sailing in Sea of Cortez, Controlled Jibe
- Marine science teacher finds carcass of 18-foot-long sea creature off California coast; October 2013 The Washington Post
- News report about the oarfish found October 2013 off southern California coast.
- Oarfish Offer Chance to Study an Elusive Animal Long Thought a Monster, "New York Times" Interpretive news article about the two oarfish found in October 2013 off the southern California coast.
- Rare footage off Gulf of Mexico (2011).