A marine science instructor snorkelling off the southern California coast spotted something out of a fantasy novel: the silvery carcass of an 18-foot-long (five metre), serpent-like oarfish.
Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute needed more than 15 helpers to drag the giant sea creature with eyes the size of half dollars to shore on Sunday.
Staffers at the institute are calling it the discovery of a lifetime.
“We’ve never seen a fish this big,” said Mark Waddington, senior captain of the Tole Mour, CIMI’s sail training ship. “The last oarfish we saw was three feet (90 centimetres) long.”
Because oarfish dive more than 3000 feet deep (914 metres), sightings of the creatures are rare and they are largely unstudied, according to CIMI.
The obscure fish apparently died of natural causes. Tissue samples and video footage were sent to be studied by biologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Santana spotted something shimmering about 30 feet deep (nine metres) while snorkelling during a staff trip in Toyon Bay at Santa Catalina Island, about two dozen miles from the mainland.
“She said, ‘I have to drag this thing out of here or nobody will believe me,'” Waddington said.
After she dragged the carcass by the tail for more than 75 feet (23 metres), staffers waded in and helped her bring it to shore.
The carcass was on display on Tuesday for 5th, 6th, and 7th grade students studying at CIMI. It will be buried in the sand until it decomposes and then its skeleton will be reconstituted for display, Waddington said.
The oarfish, which can grow to more than 50 feet (15 metres), is a deep-water pelagic fish — the longest bony fish in the world, according to CIMI.
They are likely responsible for sea serpent legends throughout history.