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Environment & Science

Oarfish: Fascinating, rare, mythical—but really bad eating




A 15-feet-long oarfish was found on the shore of Sandy Beach on Catalina Island Monday.
A 15-feet-long oarfish was found on the shore of Sandy Beach on Catalina Island Monday.
Tyler Dvorak/Catalina Island Conservancy
A 15-feet-long oarfish was found on the shore of Sandy Beach on Catalina Island Monday.
An 18-foot oarfish. Only half a dozen people have seen them alive in their natural habitat.
Courtesy of Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay


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When it comes to fishes, we turn to Dr. Milton Love, UCSB marine biologist and author of "Certainly More Than You Wanted to Know About the Fishes of the Pacific Coast," although when it comes to one fish in particular, we don't know much.

A 15-foot long oarfish washed ashore on Catalina Island Monday, which isn't too rare, but Love says, "there are only about six sightings in the entire world of a living oarfish underwater." Only six sightings in history.

"People just don't know much about them," Love says. "What we know is mainly from beached specimens. The animals have beached themselves all over the world, from the tropics to Scotland, Norway, and in Japan. And it's very hard to tell much about a fish when all you've got are dead ones."

(UCSB marine biologist Milton Love. Image courtesy Milton Love)

Love says we are pretty sure they normally live hundreds of feet beneath the surface, they eat jellyfish and crustaceans, and they taste awful. "Apparently, they're horrible. Almost no one has ever eaten one, but I read a report recently of someone in Norway who ate a chunk of one and said it was so bad even his dogs wouldn't eat it, which is pretty bad."

For much more on the oarfish, whether the recent beachings are evidence of global warming, and an update on Survive! Mola Mola, listen to our audio interview.