LOS ANGELES — Two rare, ribbon-like fish that washed up on Southern California beaches last week have puzzled and excited scientists, who know little about the creature that inspired sea serpent lore.
The oarfish, deep-sea dwellers that remain largely mysterious to researchers, have been seen underwater only a handful of times. What is known comes from the few carcasses that have washed ashore.
“If all you knew about deer was road kill … how much would you actually know about deer?” said Milton Love, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara. “That’s kind of where we are with oarfish.”
The 18-foot giant found off Santa Catalina Island on Oct. 13 was among the largest oarfish reported in nearly 20 years. A 14-foot fish beached in Oceanside on Friday was dissected and examined by scientists Monday.
Love said he believes that the deaths of the two fish are probably linked. The most likely cause was a current that carried the weak-swimming creature from still waters into a near-shore, more turbulent area, which they aren’t adapted to surviving in.
Despite its menacing appearance, the serpentine, silver fish is toothless and heavy, with weak, flabby muscles. It glows slightly, and a ribbon-like dorsal fin waves along the length of its body as it hangs in the water, sucking down plankton and jellyfish, said Russ Vetter, who assisted in the smaller fish’s dissection and directs the fisheries resource division at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center.
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