Rare oarfish, alleged harbingers of doom, caught in Japan
Updated 11:17, 27-Feb-2019

Two rare oarfish, giant deep-sea serpents believed by locals to be a harbinger of earthquakes and tsunamis, have been caught off the Japanese island of Okinawa.

Fishermen were surprised to find a pair of the silvery fish alive in their nets late last month as the number of sightings of the mysterious creature in Japanese waters continues to rise. The larger of the two measured four meters, or 13 feet.

"I had only ever heard stories about this fish," Takashi Yamauchi of the Yomitan fisheries cooperative association told AFP.

"When I saw them at the port, I was quite shocked."

The fish, caught off Okinawa's southwest Toya port on January 28, both died.

More than 12 elusive oarfish, known in Japanese as "ryugu no tsukai" or the "messenger from the sea god's palace," have washed up on Japanese shores this past year.

Giant oarfish displayed at the aquarium in Toyama Prefecture. /AFP Photo‍

Giant oarfish displayed at the aquarium in Toyama Prefecture. /AFP Photo‍

Oarfish live between 200 and 1,000 meters below the surface of the Pacific and the Indian Oceans and have serpentine bodies with red fins that give them a dragon-like appearance.

In Japanese folklore, the creatures move to shallower seas before underwater earthquakes, possibly due to electromagnetic changes that occur with tectonic activity.

Local media reported that a spate of sightings preceded the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that left about 18,500 dead or missing in northeast Japan, reinforcing the myth.

The recent oarfish discoveries have sparked renewed debate on social media about impending doom, although scientists dispute such claims.

"They looked mysterious and beautiful," Satomi Higa of the Yomitan's fisheries cooperative association told the Okinawa Times.

"They looked like real dragons."

Although rarely caught in fishing nets, six oarfish were recently captured or found beached in Toyama on the western shores of central Japan.

The pair caught off Okinawa died en route to an aquarium before fishermen ate part of a fin. Officials noted that only a portion that had ripped off while loading one of the creatures onto the boat had been sampled.

Source(s): AFP