The Giant Oarfish

The 18-foot specimen that washed up in Southern California this week was, by past accounts, of modest size for an adult giant oarfish; these deepwater residents of Temperate and Tropical oceans have been known to reach 50 feet in length, the longest bony fish on our planet.  Since they feed on krill, squid and small fish at depths of 100 to 3000 feet, giant oarfish are rarely encountered as active, living creatures and most of what we know about them has been gleaned from dead or dying specimens that wash onto beaches.

Most of the giant oarfish is comprised of a long, ribbon-like tail; a feathery dorsal fin runs atop the fish, from its head to the tip of its tail, and the portion atop its head lengthens to form a distinctive crest.  Vital organs of the oarfish are located near its head and the pair of long, oar-like pelvic fins are just behind its short pectoral fins.  Oarfish belong to the Order Lampridiformes, which split from other fish lines during the Cretaceous Period, some 100 million years ago, when Tyrannosaurus rex ruled the land.

The occasional appearance of these giant fish on our shores reminds us that we know very little about the ecology of deep ocean life zones and have only begun to study and document their strange and diverse fauna.  Since the function and welfare of Earth's many ecosystems are interdependent, we ignore the deep marine wilderness at our own peril.