Oarfish: The true tale of the fish we can’t seem to get enough of

IMG_0355Dr. Misty Paig-Tran is Assistant Professor at California State University Fullerton. Her laboratory (Functional Anatomy, Biomechanics, and Biomaterials) studies how animals feed and move, among other things. Her research is focused on big filter-feeding animals (Sharks and Manta rays) and mid-deep water fishes – you know, the scary looking ones. You can learn about her research hereand you can follow her on twitter

Today I sit at my computer totally aghast that the media seems to have gone into a frenzy once again about the latest oarfish that washed up on Catalina yesterday. I get it. I too, as a marine biologist and self-admitted fish nerd, get totally excited any time a cool fish washes up. And I get extra excited about the oarfish in particular. Of course I do, I am currently studying the fish in my lab at Cal State. What’s not to like? It’s huge, silvery, and looks like a dragon. Myths about this fish are old and salty. However, there has been a ton of misinformation printed about this fish and now it’s my chance to set some things straight. So I will try to rectify this now. Ahem.




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Fish out of water: the necropsy of the beached oarfish

antonella_pretiAntonella Preti, graduated with a degree in Biology specializing in Marine Ecology from the University of Turin, Italy. She is currently attending a long distance Ph.D. program through the School of Biological Sciences of Aberdeen, Scotland.  She has been working for 15 years on the feeding ecology of large pelagic species (sharks, swordfish and cetaceans) caught in the California drift gill net fisheries at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California. She has co-authored numerous scientific publications and two books, Mako Sharks and Sharks of the Pacific Northwest.

When most people refer to a “once in a lifetime fish” they generally mean a big fish that they fought for a long time that will make an excellent trophy for their mantle or a story for their grandchildren.  When marine scientists talk about a “once in a lifetime fish,” we often mean a species that is so rarely seen that we feel lucky to have observed it, even after it has washed up on a beach somewhere.  This month we in Southern California have been lucky enough to have one such “once in a lifetime fish” appear twice in a span of a week, as two oarfish washed ashore local beaches.  The first, an 18-foot specimen was found on Catalina Island and the second, a 14-foot specimen (approximately 275 pounds), was found in Oceanside, CA.  I had the unique opportunity to assist in the necropsy of the second individual at Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC) in La Jolla, CA.  This was an interesting and exciting opportunity to learn more about a species about which little is known as it rarely encountered.

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