ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The elusive oarfish

Updated on July 28, 2014

On October 16, 2013, CNN mentioned the discovery of an 18-foot-long, silvery fish. This fish, found fifteen feet below the surface off the southern California coast, had reddish fins and eyes the size of a half-dollar. Jasmine Santana, the marine science instructor, recognized the fish and dragged the dead carcass to shore.

But few outside of marine biologists would know what this huge animal was, since oarfish dive over 3,000 feet deep in their native temperate and tropical waters and are usually only seen on the surface when they are dead and not eaten up by undersea scavengers.

The most common scientific name for this fish is Regalecus glesne, dubbed in 1772 by Ascanius, but there are at least fourteen other scientific named assigned to the same fish between 1788 and 1914, giving it the genus Regalecidae, Cepola, Gymnetrus, or Cephalepis. Because of its rarity, these are probably all the same fish; with modern communications such a confusion no longer exists. The name comes from the Latin regalis, meaning royal. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, this is the longest bony fish alive. The common name, oarfish, probably comes from the old belief that it propels itself through the water by “rowing” with the pelvic fins. Other common names include ribbon fish, king of herrings, slender oarfish, “Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace” and sea serpent. In Japan, there is a tale that when “ryugu no tsukai” comes to the shore, an earthquake is imminent. There might be some credence to this myth, since oarfish swim so deep, near fault limes, and may be able to sense the vibrations.

Oarfish that washed ashore in Bermuda in 1860, originally described as a sea serpent
Oarfish that washed ashore in Bermuda in 1860, originally described as a sea serpent | Source

Its habitat is from 600 feet (200 meters) to 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) deep, in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Ocean from Topango Beach, southern California to Chile. However, this is only anecdotal, by sightings; scientists believe it could range any ocean or large sea except in polar regions. They have been known to come to the surface at night, apparently attracted to lights on boats.

What is known or assumed about the oarfish comes from specimens which have washed ashore or from those caught by fishermen. It is not fished commercially because its gelatinous flesh is considered inedible, but there have been occasions when oarfish were fished for sport.

Oarfish stranded on a rocky shore
Oarfish stranded on a rocky shore | Source

Reaching a length of over 50 feet (15 meters), weighing as much as 600 pounds (272 kg), Regalecus glesne has no scales, a silver to silvery blue skin, and a dorsal fin the entire body length that is red and forms a type of crest at the head. This dorsal fin is rather ornate, with a tiny spine projecting above each of over 400 fin rays. The oar-like pelvic fins are also red. Since the oarfish has a small mouth with no visible teeth, its diet consists of plankton, small crustaceans and small squid strained from the water by gill rakes in the mouth. . It is believed that sharks and other large fish might be the predators of the oarfish.

Besides “rowing” with the pelvic fins, oarfish have been observed swimming in a vertical position (perhaps searching for food) as well as undulating the long dorsal fin while keeping the body straight.

Oarfish are believed to be solitary as adults. They have been observed spawning off the Mexican coast between July and December, abandoning the eggs which contain droplets of oil to float on the ocean surface until they hatch, which takes up to three weeks. The hatched larvae feed on plankton until they mature. It isn’t known if there are other spawning areas nor what type of migration these fish may follow.

When you think about how elusive the oarfish is, how rare a sighting is, how cosmopolitan its range of habitat, and how large it usually is in length, it is not surprising that this may well be the source of so many sightings of “sea serpents” around the globe.

A 23-foot long oarfish found dead by the U.S. Military in 1996
A 23-foot long oarfish found dead by the U.S. Military in 1996

© 2014 Bonnie-Jean Rohner


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)