Divers in Taiwan’s Ruifang district encountered a creature that many believe is a terrible omen: a giant oarfish, the New York Post reports.
In July, video footage appeared online from diving instructor Wang Cheng-Ru. It showed a silvery, mirror-like oarfish, estimated to be about 6.5 feet long, hanging vertically in the water. Although the fish appeared to be alive, it didn’t react when several scuba divers approached it, and one even touched the incredible creature.
According to National Geographic, oarfish can reach up to 56 feet long, making this a small specimen. They usually live hundreds or thousands of feet down in the ocean and almost never appear near the surface. For this reason, most oarfish that people see are dead — and even then, they’re rare.
Why does an oarfish sighting matter?
As the New York Post explains, there is a common folk belief that spotting an oarfish is a bad omen. The fish are said to swim up to the surface just before a major earthquake.
However, Hiroyuki Motomura, a professor of ichthyology at Kagoshima University, told the New York Post that this is not actually the case. “There is no scientific evidence of a connection, so I don’t think people need to worry,” Motomura said. “I believe these fish tend to rise to the surface when their physical condition is poor, rising on water currents, which is why they are so often dead when they are found.”
In this case, the oarfish sported holes in its body from what Wang believed to be a cookie-cutter shark attack. “It must have been dying, so it swam into shallower waters,” he told Jam Press.
While it may not be a sign of things to come, this sighting was a rare chance to see this incredible and haunting creature in nature while it was still alive.
What can you do to help oarfish?
Currently, scientists don’t know much about the oarfish population or how they behave in the wild. As Oceana points out, their deep-sea habitat makes them hard to study — which also makes it uncertain how factors like pollution and rising temperatures affect them.
However, human activity has a dramaticimpact on the rest of the ocean, and it’s hard to imagine that oarfish are completely unaffected. Donating to marine conservation, minimizing the amount of plastic you use, and switching from gas to electric to reduce air pollution are all solid ways the average person can help protect the ocean.
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