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Oarfish main.jpg
Scientific Classification
Oarfish US Army.jpg
Oarfish found in 1996 by US Navy SEAL trainees on the California coast.

An Oarfish is any member of the taxonomic family Regalecidae. Oarfish live in very deep depths of the sea and are almost never seen at the surface in perfect health. Characterized by a flat slender body, the Oarfish is also known as the Ribbonfish [2]. The longest of the species of Oarfish, King of Herrings, holds a world record for being the longest bony fish on earth. While highly elusive, the Oarfish has not been declared as an endangered species. Oarfish are even considered sport fish to a certain extent because of their immense size [1]. Historical documents depicting “sea serpents” seem to bear an image strikingly similar to the Oarfish, possibly indicating that Oarfish are the inspiration for the myths and legends of sea monsters[3].

Body Design

An Oarfish (Regalecus glesne) preserved in alcohol

Oarfish are vertebrates, meaning they have a vertebral column for body support. Unlike most fish, Oarfish do not contain scales or teeth and has skin considered to be inedible due to its gelatinous consistency [1]. The body is highly elongated and narrows at the tail end. Like others in the order Lampridiformes, the mouth is notably protrusible [4]. Locomotion was at one time thought to have been achieved by moving two long, slender pelvic fins to “row” itself through the water, thus giving it the name “Oarfish”. Mobility in fact is accomplished through undulations of its dorsal fin which runs the entire length of the fish. The dorsal fin contains approximately four-hundred separate fin rays [3] [5]. The initial 10 to 12 rays of the dorsal fin are greatly extended to form what some call a cockscomb [3]. No anal fins or gas bladder exist whatsoever within any Oarfish [3] [1]. Oarfish have occasionally been discovered to orient themselves in a vertical angle, possibly in order to intake food [5].

The main pigmentation of almost every Oarfish is a shimmering silvery color produced by concentrations of guanine, a base commonly found in DNA, within its skin. Some red, black, and blue on the undersides of the fish is also somewhat common [3]. The cockscomb on an Oarfish's head has red pigmentation that may serve as warning coloration, alerting potential predators of possible danger. The slim pelvic fins, used for navigation, exhibit a yellow hue to the tips of the fins, thought to be used as a method of attracting prey [2]. The longest of the species, King of Herrings, have been reported and documented to be at least 36 feet (other unconfirmed reports claim sightings of approximately 50 feet and 600 pounds) [1]. Researchers in New Zealand described a captured Oarfish as discharging “electric shocks” upon touch. Oarfish are also thought to be able to live with half of their body remaining intact [2].

Life Cycle

A juvenile Oarfish

The spawning period for Oarfish is between July and December. They have been seen spawning off the coast of Mexico in tropical or subtropical waters. The Oarfish will release multiple brightly colored eggs into the sea where they are fertilized by the male [1]. When spawning ends, the eggs are abandoned by their parents to live solitary lives. The eggs will then drift on or near the surface of the ocean for three weeks until they hatch.[5] [1]. The larvae are active and resemble adult Oarfish, possessing long dorsal and pelvic fins, pigmented eyes, and extended mouths that feed on zooplankton [1] [3]. Courtship has never been observed within the Oarfish community, but certain studies suggest that many males will mate with a single female [3].


An image depicting several species of Oarfish

Oarfish are usually considered to be solitary animals [3]. Oarfish are filter feeders, typically filtering zooplankton, shrimp, and small crustaceans from water taken in using gill rakers located inside the mouth [2]. More organisms such as small fish, squid, and krill are also eaten frequently [1] [3]. The potential natural predators of Oarfish include species like sharks or other larger fish [6]. Oarfish live at extremely deep depths, specifically at a layer of the sea known as the pelagic zone [5]. The pelagic zone is not necessarily near to the surface or bottom of a given body of water [7]. Oarfish are known to inhabit depths of approximately 3,000 feet below surface [5]. Oarfish are known so far as to inhabit almost all tropical oceans. The only times Oarfish normally are recorded to voluntarily come to very shallow depths are when they are close to death.[1]

Mythology, Folklore, and Misconceptions

A historical drawing depicting an Oarfish as a "sea serpent".

Oarfish may provide the basis for many tales and fables of sea monsters from all over the world [1]. Oarfish have been associated with myths, legends, and hoaxes for centuries. According to ancient Japanese folklore, Oarfish were the messengers from the sea god's palace who either forebode a tremendous catch of fish or a disastrous earthquake [8].

The reason behind this myth seems to be rooted in fact, as unusual numbers of Oarfish have been observed to wash up on shore dead shortly before an earthquake [9]. Oarfish are viewed in Japan as a means of predicting natural disaster, mainly earthquakes. [1]. Whenever an earthquake followed by a tsunami is about to hit several Oarfish wash up on shore dead, indicating the disaster is immanent [9]. In fact, many Oarfish washed up on shores preceeding the recent 2011 earthquake. This could possibly be due to the Oarfish's large body that makes it vulnerable to underwater shock waves or poison gases released during seismic activity[8].

A very popular photograph on display in many dining establishments in Thailand (pictured above) depict several US Navy soldiers holding up an Oarfish. An inscription below the picture usually bore a description of the “Queen of Nāgas” (nāgas meaning snake) having been caught by American soldiers at a US Navy base in Laos in 1973. In reality, the picture was taken in California in 1996 [1].




  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 . Oarfish. Wikipedia. Web. Accessed December 22, 2011. Author unknown.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 . Oarfish Allthesea. Web. Accessed January 29, 2012. Author Unknown.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 . Oarfish. New World Encyclopedia. Web. Accessed December 22, 2011. Smith, Dwight.
  4. . Oarfish, Regalecus glesne (Ascanius, 1772). Australian Museum. Web. Accessed January 16, 2012. McGrouther, Mark.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 . Oarfish (Regalecus glesne). Seasky. Web. Accessed January 28, 2012. Author unknown.
  6. . Oarfish Ufl. Web. Accessed January 28, 2012. Bester, Cathleen.
  7. Pelagic Zone. Wikipedia. Web. Accessed January 28, 2012. Author unknown.
  8. 8.0 8.1 . Ryugu no tsukai Oarfish. Blogspot. Web. Accessed January 30, 2012. Greve, Gabi.
  9. 9.0 9.1 . The Oarfish Omen. Ku. Web. Accessed January 28, 2012. Bentley, Andrew.