Scary sea creature
mystifies fishermen and cruise ship snorkelers
by Susan Dearing
Click on thumbnails to enlarge
returning from a snorkeling
tour, cruise ship visitors to Manzanillo were stunned and
amazed by a strange, serpent-like beast that had apparently washed
Reporters from the daily newspapers, as well
as other members of the news media were there to snap pictures,
videos, and stare in wonder at the 20 ft. monstrosity that
beached itself in its death throes.
With an oversized head and huge, circular
eyes, and a tapering, ribbony silver body--the creature--together
with its impressive, pink dorsal fins that ran the entire length
of its body, it was indeed one of the most unusual specimens the
onlookers had ever seen. It had a small yet highly protrusible
oblique mouth with no visible teeth. Its
sides were covered with irregular bluish to blackish streaks,
black dots, and squiggles.
Of the approximately 400 dorsal fin rays,
the first few were elongated to varying degrees, forming a
trailing crest embellished with reddish spots and flaps of skin at
the ray tips.
It wasn't until I returned to the Dive
Center that I was able to identify the fish, thanks to the
internet. I typed in "weird ocean fish," and the first website to
pop up had several photos of our mystery animal. Here is the
web site for more pictures.
In studying this fascinating "sea monster,"
I learned that it was called an oarfish, a pelagic Lampriform (an order of ray-finned
fish that includes about 50 living species of deep sea fishes),
comprising the small family of Regalecidae. Found in all
temperate to tropical oceans yet rarely seen, the oarfish family
contains four species.
One of these, the King of Herrings (though
it is not a herring), or giant oarfish, Regalecus glesne,
is found in all the world's oceans at depths of between 1,000 and
6,000 ft. Its total length can reach 60 ft., and weigh up to 700
lbs. Our 20 ft. specimen weighed in at only 60 lbs., but it took 3 men to get it out of the water
and lay it across 3 plastic picnic chairs.
The common name
oarfish is presumably in reference to either their highly
compressed and elongated bodies, or to the former (but now
discredited) belief that the fish "row" themselves through the
water with their pelvic fins. The family name Regalecidae
is derived from the Latin word
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 stories. Sightings of sea
serpents have been reported for hundreds of years, and continue to
be claimed today.
Cryptozoologist Bruce Champagne identified more
than 1,200 purported sea serpent sightings. Could many of them be
From December 2009 through March 2010,
unusual numbers of the slender oarfish were spotted off the coast
of Mexico, but oarfish are rare. Distribution information is
collated from records of oarfishes caught or washed ashore. Rare
encounters with divers and accidental catches have supplied what
little is known of oarfish behavior.
Apparently solitary animals, oarfish feed primarily on
zooplankton. Plankton are minute
organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water.
Large open-ocean carnivores are all likely predators of
oarfish, and include the white-tipped shark.
About 300 sightings of oarfish have been
recorded. Regalecus glesne,
is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest
bony fish alive.
Oarfish are rarely commercially fished;
their flesh is not well regarded due to its gelatinous
In 2001 an oarfish was filmed alive and
in situ: the 1.5 meter fish was spotted by a group of US Navy
personnel during the inspection of a buoy. The oarfish was
observed to propel itself by rhythmically undulating the dorsal
fin while 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 it easier to spot.
In July 2008,
Canadian Researcher William Sommers captured footage of the rare fish swimming in its natural
habitat off 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 5m and 10m in length.
Witnesses to the oarfish in La Boquita, a
beach at the northernmost end of Santiago Bay, truly saw something
unusual and amazing during their visit to Manzanillo. The remains
of the oarfish was donated by the fishermen in La Boquita to the
Instituto Nacional de Pesca (National Institute of Fishing) in
Manzanillo, and UNAM (University of Mexico City) for further
study. This was the first time an oarfish had ever washed up on
Colima's 40-mile coast.
You Tube video of
diver with oarfish.
You tube video
taken from an ROV (Remote Operated Vehicle) of an
with good oarfish pictures.
report on the oarfish ("pez remo"). The information is
in Spanish, and this feature story contains the details translated
from the video.
report from La Boquita, where the oarfish was first
discovered: "Experts analyze the strange fish of La Boquita." The
film footage is of the beach at La Boquita, and the interview was
with Arturo, the owner of Marildo's restaurant (we recommend this
restaurant for fresh seafood). In the video, Arturo states that in
all his years of fishing, he never saw a fish like that, but the
divers from Scuba Shack are due back any time, and the reporter,
Roberto Soberrano, should check with the PADI instructor Fernando,
who is also a marine biologist. Later that day when the divers
returned, the fish was identified as a pez remo (the
word for oar is remo), or a Rey de Arrenque or King
report "Strange fish appears at La Boquita,"
with video of fish, and live report for the
radio. Many of the cruise ship snorkelers are around the oarfish.