Oarfish, the lengthy, serpentine creatures that factor prominently in ancient mariners’ tales of sea monsters, normally stick to the deepest ocean depths. So tourists off a Mexican beach were shocked last week when not one, but two, suddenly began swimming alongside them.
The two oarfish showed up in shallow water in the Sea of Cortes, which is what divides Mexico and Baja California, in March, according to officials from the Shedd Aquarium of Chicago, which was co-sponsoring a trip along with Un-Cruise Adventures.
But this did not bode well, a marine biologist told NBC News. Although the sight and the swimming experience were a treat, the fish were most likely not long for this world, said Milton Love, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at the University of California at Santa Barbara, to NBC News.
"As far as is known all of the ones that somehow get close to shore wind up dying,” Love said. “Their usual haunts are in deeper, quieter waters at least somewhat offshore. Why they wind up near shore is unknown, but likely at least sometimes the fish get carried into these turbulent waters by unexpected currents."
Oarfish are known to keep to themselves, as far down as 3,000 feet under the ocean depths.
Sure enough a couple of days after being videotaped, one of them washed up on the beach and died Britain’s Daily Star reported on April 10: “48 hours later, the fish was found dead on the nearby Isla San Francisco.”
In the meantime, the rarely spotted creatures gave swimmers a thrill. Though the fish are jarring to see up close—they can grow as long as 56 feet, and the two that spent some of their last moments with tourists were 15 feet long—but they are harmless, as Discover Magazine noted in its online edition. Their main diet is small ocean prey like zooplankton, shrimp and other crustaceans.
These are not the first oarfish to swim to the surface and then die. They are merely the first ones to be seen, or filmed, swimming first.
Here is the video of the two oarfish from this year, during happier, albeit short-lived, times.