Oarfish are a giant species of fish that can grow up to 56 feet long, one so strange looking that it inspired the “sea serpent” myth propagated by sailors for centuries.
The oarfish may be at the center of a modern-day “sea serpent” mystery as well. A giant fish carcass washed up on a Spanish beach last week, one that drew comparisons to the Loch Ness monster or some kind of mutant.
The fish, found on Luis Siret Beach in the village of Villaricos, was long and appeared to have horns sticking out of its head. The fish was in the advanced stages of decomposition and smelled terrible, authorities said. Researchers from Spain’s Program in Defense of Marine Animals have been trying to identify the remains, but they were forced to work off of pictures because the fish was so badly decomposed.
Initial reports said the 13-foot-long animal was some kind of fish species, with early indications that it could be a thresher shark.
“It’s hard to tell,” David Shiffman, a University of Miami shark researcher and blogger on Southern Fried Science, told NBC News in a Twitter exchange, “but the official guess that it could be a thresher shark seems plausible.”
Shiffman thought there could be another possibility — an oarfish. This long and thin fish usually grows to about 10 feet, but has been known to grow close to 60 feet long.
“Certainly the tail looks oarfish-y,” Shiffman wrote about Spain’s sea serpent. “It maybe could be a thresher shark — but nothing else.”
Some oarfish, an elusive species in the herring family, have been caught on a video in recent years. While oarfish have been known to wash up on shore dead from time to time, they have not often been seen in their natural deep-sea environment.
But some researchers have been able to find and film the oarfish in recent years, and a 2011 video of an oarfish shows a 26-foot-long animal swimming at 364 feet below the surface. The fish undulated its long dorsal fins to glide through the water, moving easily in any direction.
There is some doubt that the oarfish is the culprit in Spain. Dean Grubbs, an expert from Florida State University, says he doubts Spain’s mysterious sea serpent is an oarfish at all, insisting that the picture shows a shark skeleton.