Rare "Sea Serpent" Washes Up Dead On California Beach

Tyler Dvorak/Catalina Island Conservancy

A rare deep-sea creature was found dead on a beach earlier this week. The four-meter-long (13.5 foot-long) carcass is the second oarfish to end up on Catalina Island in under two years. The latest find gives researchers another exciting opportunity to gain a better understanding of the longest bony fish in the sea.  

Two conservation workers were in for a surprise when they stumbled upon the rarely seen fish. Amy Catalano, from the Catalina Island Conservancy, suggests the oarfish may have washed ashore minutes before it was spotted. She told Reuters, "It was amazing, it felt like a movie prop, it looked make-believe almost.” Researchers are unsure about the cause of death.

As National Geographic reports, oarfish are famously known to swim vertically with their heads facing upwards. They generally live between 200 meters (656 feet) and 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) below the surface of the sea. Catalina Island Conservancy seems to have a knack for finding oarfish, as their employees found another in 2013, which measured over 5.5 meters long (18 feet). According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oarfish can grow to be more than 6 meters (20 feet) long.

Image credit: Tyler Dvorak/Catalina Island Conservancy

Tyler Dvorak, a wildlife biologist with Catalina Island Conservancy, knew “immediately” the carcass was an oarfish when he saw it. "It was a pretty weird thing to see,” he told National Geographic. The fish was found to be missing its tail, so it could have been longer. They have “long, slender silver” bodies with bright red dorsal fins, according to the Catalina Island Conservancy. Though researchers are unclear why the oarfish are swept to shore, the conservancy suggests it's possible that "they are washed toward beaches by storms or they come to the surface when they're injured or dying."

The carcass was initially examined in Catalina before its head, guts, and reproductive tract were shipped off to California State University, Fullerton, for further study. Seagulls were left to devour the rest of the carcass. 

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