Snorkeler sights rare oarfish babies
The unusual looking oarfish, with its long, slender body and alien like facial features, inspired ancient mariners to describe what they thought were mighty sea serpents, singing sirens or even magical mermaids.
Although known to have a worldwide range, specific encounters with live individuals are rare. Most of what is known about them has been distilled from information collected from records of oarfishes caught or washed ashore.
It is because of such facts that Will Steinriede, who works out on the West End of Catalina at Howland’s Landing for the Catalina Environmental Leadership program, was delighted to encounter some baby oarfish recently in the water near the Island’s shore.
“I’m in the water often and do a lot of under water photography,” Steinriede said. “I was snorkeling and came across an amazing little baby Oarfish (Trachipterus trachypterus).”
Steinriede said that Howland’s Landing could be a treasure trove of close encounters with unusual species.
“I don’t know about the rest of the Island, but here at Howland’s Landing, after spring wind and rain storms, we get a lot of pelagic species ‘blown’ into our cove,” Steinriede said. “I just went out recently and there were tons of pelagic winged snails, terapods, and comb jellies.”
Steinriede discussed how lucky he felt about his encounter with the oarfish.
“Yes. they are very rare to see alive,” he said. “Large adults wash up on beaches every now and then but are seldom seen alive. I talked to a couple people that said an adult one swam into the USC cove by Two Harbors a few years back and people got in the water with it but it didn’t live for long.”
Not long after Steinriede’s first sighting, the magic moment multiplied.
“I don’t know if you’ve gotten any other reports or sightings of oarfish, an unusual sea organism, but today we found four more juvenile oarfish washed up on our beach,” he said. “I went snorkeling during my lunch break and found about another dozen swimming around throughout our cove. This spring season on Catalina is already turning out to be an amazing one.”
Oarfish are found in all temperate to tropical oceans yet rarely seen. The oarfish family contains four species in two genera. One of these, the king of herrings (Regalecus glesne), is the longest bony fish alive, up to 17 metres (56 feet) in length.
The common name oarfish is presumably in reference to either their highly compressed and elongated bodies. 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 tales.
The tapering, ribbony silver bodies of oarfish—together with an impressive, pinkish to cardinal red dorsal fin—help explain the perception of majesty taken from rare encounters.
Oarfish feed primarily on zooplankton, selectively straining tiny euphausiids, shrimp and other crustaceans from the water. Small fish, jellyfish and squid are also taken. Large open-ocean carnivores are all likely predators of oarfish, and include the oceanic whitetip shark.
Apparently solitary animals, oarfish may frequent significant depths up to 1,000 metres (3,300 feet).
Oarfish eggs hatch after about three weeks into highly active larvae that have little resemblance to the adults, with long dorsal and pelvic fins and extensible mouths. Larvae and juveniles have been observed drifting just below the surface. In contrast, adult oarfish are rarely seen at the surface when not sick or injured.