Today’s animal is another reason why I will never go diving in the ocean, particularly in the great ocean depths. The things that live down there are bizarre, creepy, and downright scary. But they are also some of the most fascinating creatures out there.

A giant oarfish washed up on a beach. Image by Katia Cao, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The giant oarfish, as its name suggests, is a member of the oarfish family, Regalecidae. They live in the ocean depths, usually between 200 to 1000m. They can be found in all oceans, though they are usually seen in tropical or temperate waters. Occasionally oarfish are washed ashore during storms, or come to the surface when sick or injured, which is where most of the sightings of these monsters come form.

Of course, when an animal has a word like ‘giant’ in its name, the first thing I want to know is how giant. In the case of the giant oarfish, giant is pretty accurate. These guys are the longest bony fish in the world, with the largest confirmed specimen reaching 11m in length, and unconfirmed records of 17m. The fish is compressed laterally, making the fish long and thin. In fact, it looks so snakelike and is so fearsome that many ‘sea serpent’ sightings are blamed on the oarfish. The giant oarfish also has a pretty great red crest that emerges from the fish’s long dorsal fin, which further adds to its awesome appearance.

They are big fish. Image by Wm. Leo Smith, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As scary as it looks, the giant oarfish isn’t all that terrifying — it feeds mainly on krill and other small crustaceans, so my fears of it swimming up and devouring me are quite unfounded. They don’t even have teeth, instead using gill rakers to filter krill out of the water. There skin is adapted to living in the high pressure deep waters, having tubercles instead of scales and being covered in guanine. When they come to the surface, however, the skin is soft and easily damaged, which is why oarfish probably don’t come to the surface too often.

Oarfish are sometimes caught as bycatch in fishing nets, which is where a lot of the known specimens come from. Unfortunately for those that catch them, giant oarfish have a gelatinous, gooey texture — not something people usually look for in fish. Which is actually good news for the oarfish, as it means these guys aren’t purposely fished. Still, there isn’t a whole lot of data on the giant oarfish, so we’re not even sure how many of them are even out there. Hopefully lots! Oh and one last comment – the giant oarfish is also known as the king of the herrings, which is probably the best nickname ever.

Image by NMFS-PIRO Observer Program, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons