Rare Giant Oarfish Discovered By Calif. Snorkeler: 18-Footer Is 'Discovery Of A Lifetime'

By Josh Lieberman on October 16, 2013 1:04 PM EDT

oarfish
Snorkelers found a giant oarfish off Catalina Island, Calif., on Sunday. Oarfish are very rarely seen, dead or alive. (Photo: Catalina Island Marine Institu)

A snorkeler in the Toyon Bay waters in Santa Catalina Island, Calif., made the "discovery of a lifetime" on Sunday when they came upon an 18-foot oarfish. It is extremely rare to see an oafish, dead or alive. The sea-serpent-like creature is the world's longest bony fish, reaching up to 56 feet in length, but it's almost never seen because it lives thousands of feet below the ocean surface.

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The California oarfish was discovered by Jasmine Santana, a marine science instructor at Catalina Island Marine Institute. Santana was swimming 15 feet underwater when she saw the dead oarfish's eye staring up at her. She grabbed its tail and started swimming it to shore, and when she couldn't drag it any further, about 20 people from the Marine Institute helped her haul the oarfish the rest of the way.

"I was first a little scared," Santana said. "But when I realized it was an oarfish, I knew it was harmless."

Mark Waddington, the senior captain of the Tole Mour, the Marine Institute's schoolchildren ship, said he'd heard of oarfish from studies, but never imagined he'd actually see one of the rare creatures.

"I was beside myself," said Waddington. "I'm sure I said 'awesome' a lot."

After getting the 400-pound oarfish carcass ashore and taking some photographs of it, the Marine Institute wasn't sure what do do with the thing. They've sent tissue samples to the University of California at Santa Barbara, but they don't have a freezer big enough to store the oarfish. The creature is currently on ice; the Marine Institute may bury it in the sand and let it decompose before mounting its skeleton.

The Marine Institute said in a release that oarfish are found in all temperate to tropical waters and are believed to dive down as far as 3,000 feet deep. Because of their deep-water habits, they are difficult to spot and have not been widely studied. As a result, little is known about their behavior or how many oarfish exist. The Marine Institute doesn't know how the oarfish ended up in such shallow waters. They believe the oarfish died naturally.

Below is footage of a living oarfish taken in August 2011. The oarfish was spotted about 200 feet below the surface by a ship performing a seafloor survey in the Gulf of Mexico.

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