Think like an Oarfish

By Julie Cremer

Its cold everywhere I go, cold and very dark. My long, thin body sways and

ripples with the strong currents. Down here the pressure is so strong, other fish would be

crushed in seconds. Thank goodness my body is flat so that it can withstand the force. I

spend the majority of my days floating in this infinite liquid called an ocean waiting for

food to pass me by. There is no left or right, up or down. I simply float.


Meet the oarfish; deemed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest

bony fish alive. Oarfish are pretty rare and were hardly known to man until 1772. Living

at depths of up to 3,300 feet below the surface, a majority of the biology and behavior of

these animals is unknown. However, in April of this past year, members of an ecotourism

expedition from the Shedd Aquarium encountered, not one, but TWO oarfish hanging out

in a shallow lagoon off the coast of Baja California. Team members were able to capture

video footage of the two fish while kayaking north of La Paz, near Isla San Francisco.

Sadly, the oarfish managed to beach themselves on the shore after swimming around for

twenty to thirty minutes. Despite many efforts, attempts to push the oarfish back out into

Oarfish Biology

Malibu Oarfish

This Oarfish washed up in Malibu California

Oarfish can reach a length of 50-60 feet while weighing in at a whopping 600

pounds! I think a house cat would lose his whiskers if he caught sight at this giant of a

fish. The name, “oarfish”, originates from this fish’s long, compact body in addition to

the belief of oarfish “rowing” themselves with their pelvic fins through water. The home

of the oarfish consists of every ocean in the world minus the polar seas. Throughout the

centuries, oarfish have been found cast upon beaches in the wake of storms or seen near

the surface when injured or dying. Encounters like this are what may have given birth to

tales and legends of sea serpents by mariners. I don’t blame them. I would be having

nightmares too if I had just hauled up a sixty foot, flopping, slimy creature that resembled

a cross somewhere between a mutant eel and Moby Dick.


Based upon observations of dead specimens, oarfish have very large eyes above a

protruding mouth with no visible teeth. Their elongated bodies do not have scales but

instead are covered with a substance called silver guanine. The dorsal fin, located on the

top of the body, runs all the way from the head to the very tip of the tail. 400 rays or

bones make up the foundation of the dorsal fin with the first 10-12 forming an impressive

crest that would make a peacock jealous. Oarfish do not have a swim bladder like other

fish but swim by weaving their body back and forth in the water like a ribbon waving in

the wind. Plankton, crustaceans and squid need to be on the lookout for this monster

Giant OarfishI encourage you to take a few minutes today and place yourself in the fins of an

oarfish. What would it be like to be this animal? How would our perceptions of time and

space change? How would we perceive and sense the world around us? What a challenge

since we are obviously not fish! However, it’s smashing good fun and interesting to

theorize the possibilities. We should not let any chance pass us by to learn and study all

we can when it comes to the ocean’s inhabitants. So the next time you play an icebreaker

at a large party with strange people you don’t know and the question for the icebreaker is,

“If you could be any animal in the world, what would you be?” you reply, “An oarfish!”




1. Clark Howard, Bryan. “Rare Video Shows ‘Sea Serpent’ Oarfish in Shallow

Ocean. National Geographic. 8 April. 2014. http://news.nationalgeopraphic.com/


2. Bester, Cathleen. Education. Biological Profiles. Oarfish. Icthyology at the

Florida Museum of Natural History. Web. 2 February, 2015 <http://www/


3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yK2g4Nwdxco

2. (KABC PHOTO/ Viewer Laura Z. Wasserman

3. Harper’s Weekly. Ellis, R. 1994. Monsters of the Sea. Robert Hale Ltd.