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The Giant Oarfish

October 24, 2013

A NOAA biologist who necropsied this strange and mysterious fish shares his theory of how two of them ended up on the beach.


In the last few weeks, not one, but two giant oarfish have washed up on the beach in Southern California. Oarfish, which can grow well past 20 feet in length, are a strange and mysterious creature from the deep sea, and one that scientists know little about.

Russ Vetter is a biologist at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, where he and other scientists necropsied one of these outlandish creatures. In this podcast, Dr. Vetter talks about the biology of the oarfish and hypothesizes about how these two ended up on the beach.

The oarfish is fascinating because of its size and its otherworldly beauty. But to scientists, the oarfish is also interesting because it resides in the mesopelagic zone, the deep layer of ocean where light cannot reach. According to Vetter, the mesopelagic is the least explored ecosystem on the planet. Learning about this zone and the animals within it is forcing scientists to re-think how ocean ecosystems work.

Check out this video of a live oarfish

And visit NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center website to learn more about the dissection and biological analyses that scientists performed one of the oarfish that washed up near Oceanside, California.

Last updated by Office of Communications on August 26, 2021