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The Incredible Oarfish

Updated on October 21, 2013

The Oarfish, most known for its incredible length and menacing appearance, is most likely the source of sea serpent mythology. Reaching lengths of up to fifty feet, the Oarfish is the largest boney fish known to man. Little is known about the behavior of the great fish because it is rarely seen, but it is natural to have questions about such a new and unique species. Recently there have been various sightings of dead Oarfish on the California coast, washed ashore at nearly 25 feet long, in some cases. Curiosity has never been so widespread about this animal, so here I have posted what I deem to be the most reliable information that I have found from various sources online sources.

The Oarfish's dorsal fin consists of many thin rays ranging from pink to bright red in color.
The Oarfish's dorsal fin consists of many thin rays ranging from pink to bright red in color.


Although the oarfish appears intimidating in its size, there is little about its anatomy that would be deemed harmless. Although it is closely related to the streamer fish (Agrostichthys parkeri), which is known to be electrogenic (shocking to the touch), the oarfish is harmless to the touch. Instead, the body is covered by skin made from guanine rather than scales, giving the fish its silvery appearance.

The largest oarfish seen was reported at 36 feet from head to caudal tip, although they are usually only found around 10-15 feet in length. The largest weight is said to be 600 lbs.

The dorsal fin (on the back) starts just above its eyes and spans the entire length of the fish. It's made up of rays, much like those associated with sting rays, but aren't harmful. The first 10 to 15 rays from the forehead are roughly three to four times in length as the rest, giving the fish somewhat of a horse's mane. These rays are used in conjunction with pelvic fins, which are elongated and protrude from the belly, close to the head. There anal and caudal fins commonly associated with most bony fish are often not present, resulting in the oarfish's ribbon-like movement.

The shiny, silvery skin of the oarfish gives off a blue hue in inconsistent blotches and stripes along the fish's side. These blue markings are known to fade unnaturally fast upon the fish's death. The rays that make up its dorsal fin are said to range from pink to red, as well as the pelvic fin.

The oarfish has no teeth large enough to be seen with the naked eye. Plankton, squid, and various crustaceans make up their diet. To eat squid, the oarfish uses a uniquely specialized method of mastication, in which it uses its gills to "rake" the squid in. They are known to carry large volumes of krill for periodic digestion.

Oarfish eggs range from .1 to .2 inches in diameter, and float on the surface of the ocean after they are fertilized. The sunlight acts as an incubator for about three weeks until it hatches and feeds on plankton until it grows to a larger size.

Unfortunately, many of the accessible pictures of oarfish are of the recently deceased.
Unfortunately, many of the accessible pictures of oarfish are of the recently deceased.


The Oarfish has been seen across the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean Oceans. Although they appear to be widespread, it is doubtful that they make home in arctic waters.

Oarfish live at great depths, ranging from around 600 to 3,000 feet below the surface. They are typically seen alone, suggesting that oarfish live predominantly solitary lives.


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