A second dead oarfish has washed up on the California coast, and marine experts say it is no coincidence coming five days after the first one.
They do not, however, go so far as to give credence to superstitions that such deaths portend a major earthquake, as Japanese legend has it. Neither do they say that the deaths are due to human activity. Rather, the animals were most likely caught up in a rogue current that dragged them into shallower waters than they are used to surviving in. The second one may even have been dashed to death in the swells, researchers said.
Oarfish number two washed up along Oceanside Harbor on Friday October 17 and measured nearly 14 feet long, which is four feet shorter than the 18-footer that was found in the shallows off Catalina Island on October 13. The smaller one was about to give birth, the San Diego Union Tribune reported.
Since oarfish dive below 3,000 feet, they are rarely seen, especially alive. An exception was the oarfish captured by oil rig video cameras in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago.
The latest oarfish incident was witnessed by between 50 and 75 beachgoers, some of whom called police, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Officer Mark Bussey responded and snapped a photo before a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) came to measure and retrieve it. It was cut into sections and divvied up for study, the newspaper said.
Milton Love, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute, told the Los Angeles Times that the deaths are most likely linked. A current probably dragged them both from the still, deep waters they are accustomed to navigating into a turbulent area closer to shore, which they were not adapted for, he said.
The bottom line, though, is that scientists have no idea what killed these creatures, said Russ Vetter, director of the fisheries resource division at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, to the Los Angeles Times. He helped dissect the more recent fish find.
"With a rare event like this, it is a bit troubling, but it's a total mystery," he told the newspaper.
The deaths brought Japanese legend to the minds of many. A good 10 of the creatures washed ashore in Japan in 2010, about a year before the March 2011, 8.9-magnitude earthquake that shook the northeastern part of the country and spawned the tidal wave that wiped out thousands of people, the Union Tribune reported.
Scientists cautioned against assuming that potential seismic activity undetected by scientific instruments could be picked up on by marine life. But they did not completely dismiss the idea that deep-sea oil drilling or climate change’s effects on ocean currents could contribute to cause of death in otherwise healthy animals.
“The number of oarfish that beach themselves worldwide in a year is typically either one or zero, so this is unusual,” Love told the Union Tribune. “It’s possible any of those theories are true. I think it’s a little early to say anything.”