Almost any time a long, serpent-like oarfish washes up on shore, it makes news—and inspires rumours.
On August 8, one day before a magnitude 6.6 earthquake hit Luzon in the Philippines, two oarfish, one 12-feet-long and the other 14-feet-long, washed up on a beach on another island. Reports say they appeared to be in relatively good health and the larger one was a female.
In this instance though, the earthquake correlation is not so easy to make—the oarfish wound up over 800 miles from where the quake was centred.
Oarfish are thought to frequent depths around 3,300 feet, so when one or more washes up on the surface, observers and scientists seek to understand why.
Rare "sea-serpent' caught on camera.
It has long been thought oarfish wash up on beaches ahead of earthquakes. In 2011, shortly before the devastating Tohoku earthquake in Japan, scientists say 20 oarfish stranded themselves on area beaches.
Some scientists hypothesise that because deep-sea fish like the oarfish are closer to active faults, they could be more sensitive to chemical changes that happen in ocean water when earthquakes occur. On the other hand, some experts think oarfish likely don’t live close enough to these fault lines to feel the effects and the supposed link could just be coincidence.
“There are a lot more earthquakes and there aren’t oarfish coming up every time,” says ichthyologist Prosanta Chakrabarty from Louisiana State University. “They come up when there aren't earthquakes, so why connect the events?”
At any rate, oarfish close to the surface and washing onshore are likely close to dying. Despite these stranding events, scientists still need to learn more about oarfish and what triggers their demise. They are still thought of as the likely inspiration for many "sea serpent" tales of old.
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Header Image: Two oarfish were found washed up before an earthquake in the Philippines. Image from Tourism Saint Bernard/Jane Araneta