A giant oarfish found off the coast of California is being called the discovery of a lifetime, and it was entirely by accident that the massive sea creature was found.
The oarfish was discovered by Jasmine Santana, a 26-year-old instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute. She was snorkeling in Toyon Bay when she saw a giant eye on the water’s sandy bottom.
When uncovered, she found an 18-foot oarfish.
The sea creature, which can grow to enormous lengths, is so rarely seen that sailors once referred to it as a sea serpent. They have only been spotted a handful of times, dead or alive, and the institute hailed the discovery as “once in a lifetime.”
Santana realized what she had found, and instead of taking a picture decided she needed to get the oarfish to shore somehow. She started to drag the giant creature, and when others in her party saw her they rushed over to help.
“I had heard of it in studies, but never thought I would see one in person,” said Mark Waddington, the senior captain of the institute’s sailing school training ship.
This may be the second oarfish discover in the course of a few months. In August a giant dead sea creature washed up on a beach in Spain, which many biologists believed to be an oarfish.
Others thought it was 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.”
The oarfish can actually grow up to 56 feet, three times the size of the one discovered in California this week.
Other sightings include a video taken in 2011 showing a 26-foot-long oarfish swimming at 364 feet below the surface, using its dorsal fins to glide through the water.