CATALINA ISLAND, Ca. — Annie MacAulay heard of the legendary deep sea monster for 20 years and then she finally saw it: an oarfish so long that it spanned the length of about three people.
An oarfish isn’t necessarily a pleasant-looking animal. In fact, it may inspire dread in some.
But its mind-boggling size indeed resembles an oar belonging to a galley ship. The giant fish is said to have inspired sailors’ tales of sea serpents.
This week’s discovery is between 14 and 17 feet long, MacAulay estimates. They are rarely seen because they prefer to slither in the deep, open ocean.
It was by accident that MacAulay happened upon the dead oarfish, which had washed ashore on one of Los Angeles’ coastal isles, Catalina Island. She discovered the fish Monday while taking kids on an educational kayaking trip off the island shores, she told CNN.
She hadn’t seen an oarfish in her 20 years residing on the island — until this week. MacAulay is president and CEO of Mountain and Sea Adventures, a nonprofit group promoting environmental awareness.
“Seeing the oarfish yesterday was indeed one of the highlights of my 25-year career as a marine science educator,” MacAulay said Tuesday. “Being able to see and touch the longest species of bony fish was amazing!”
As of Tuesday, the fish remained on the shore of Emerald Bay on the island’s western end, MacAulay said.
The oarfish’s tail was maimed as if another animal had fed on it, and birds have been eating the eyes of the giant creature, she said.
“Even though the beautiful red crest, the eye and part of the tail had been consumed, it was still an incredible sight,” MacAulay said.
Two conservationists were said to have initially found the oarfish while doing early morning breeding bird surveys, said Matt McClain, director of marketing and communications at The Catalina Conservancy, a nonprofit group that protects the pristine island.
Authorities don’t know how the fish died, McClain said.
The last time an oarfish was spotted on Catalina Island was in October 2013.
“It is believed that oarfish dive over 3,000 feet deep, which leaves them largely unstudied, and little is known about their behavior or population,” the Catalina Island Marine Institute said after an oarfish discovery in 2013.