Scientists have released what’s believed to be the first-ever deep-sea footage of living oarfish. The serpent-like denizens, which reside at great depths, are presumed responsible for spawning myths of sea monsters among ancient mariners. The footage was captured in 2011 via remotely-operated vehicle in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and released this week. (The full clip is 9:57 long but we’ve shortened it to begin at the 3:40 mark, where the oarfish is most clearly visible.)
The ROV, operated by Mako Technologies and utilized for Hornbeck Offshore Services in what was called the SERPENT project, was conducting sea floor and water column surveys when the oarfish came into view.
(Actually, there were five observations, according to Deep Sea News, which cites a scientific paper in the Journal of Fish Biology, which has restricted access. The observations were made between 0.6 and 1.14 miles deep.)
Oarfish, which are named because of their oar-shaped fins and can reach lengths of 30-plus feet, are mysterious largely because of their near-lightless habitat and because the only specimens previously seen had washed ashore dead or dying.
One of the more recent of these encounters was last October at Cabo San Lucas (pictured, below right).
A 15-foot oarfish came ashore on bustling Medano Beach and immediately attracted a crowd. It was barely alive and efforts to revive the “sea monster” failed, so it was collected for scientific study.
In 2006, a barely-live oarfish surfaced in a cove at Santa Catalina Island in Southern California.
Harbormaster Doug Oudin, who donned snorkeling gear and swam with the fish before it eventually perished, described its coloring as “metallic silver with bright blue-brown spots and splotches, along with its amazing pinkish-red full-length dorsal fin.”
Oudin added that the oarfish appeared to be blind, which isn’t surprising, considering that these denizens, which have large saucer-shaped eyes, live at lightless depths of 1,500 to 3,000 feet.
Little else is known about these longest of bony fishes because so few have been found, but, like the giant squid, they’re steeped in lore, believed responsible for spawning tales of serpents and dragons rising demonically to steal crewmen and sink tall ships.
Their modern discovery might date to 1808, when a 56-foot serpent-like creature washed ashore in Scotland. In 1901, a 22-foot oarfish drifted onto the sand in Newport Beach, California, becoming, according to one reference book, “the basis for many sea-serpent stories told by local bar patrons for more than a decade after its discovery.”