Rare Deep-Sea Fish Known as Omen of Earthquakes Wash up on Japan’s Coast

February 1, 2019 Updated: February 2, 2019

A deep-sea fish said to be a harbinger of earthquakes and tsunamis has stirred up fears in Japan after a number were recently washed ashore.

The oarfish, which can reach over 30 feet in length, is thought to be behind some of the sea serpent myths of the west.

The Japanese word for this fish, ryugu no tsukai, means, “messenger from the palace of the dragon king.” According to folklore, the fish rise from the depths to the surface and beach themselves when an earthquake is coming.

Two oarfish were found washed ashore in the last few days, according to the Uoza Aquarium. The first, over 10 feet long, came ashore on Jan. 28. The second, nearly 13 feet long, washed ashore on Jan. 30.

A fifth Oarfish was found in Toyama Bay in the last fiscal year, the aquarium reported.

The previous record for the area was four in one year, according to the South China Morning Post.

Scientists say that there is no proof that Oarfish are able to predict natural disasters, though there are various theories as to how they might do so.

View this post on Instagram

#うおすいレア生物 #またまた❗️ #リュウグウノツカイ 昨日、魚津市経田の海岸でリュウグウノツカイが打ち上げられているのが発見されました❗️全長は323cm。 富山湾では今年度5例目です。 あいにく今回発見されたものは 鳥につつかれ損傷が激しかったので、解剖などを行い研究用にしました。 前回獲れたリュウグウノツカイは 2/2(土)と2/3(日)の2日間限定で展示しますよ⤴⤴ 全長394.8cm。 今回はタッチOK🙆‍♂️ 深海魚ファンは見逃せませんよね〜🙌🙌 #幻の魚 #oarfish #deepsea #nature #beautiful #魚 #珍魚 #さかな #魚津水族館公式 #魚津水族館 #水族館 #富山 #uozuaquarium #aquarium #uozuaquariumofficial #限定 #レア #魚津 #経田 #背ビレ腹ビレ美しい #花魁

A post shared by 魚津水族館 公式 (@uozuaquarium_official) on

Sitting directly over the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan is one of the most earthquake-prone countries in the world.

Spotted Before the Fukushima Earthquake

The news of oarfish rising to the surface prompted worried chatter on social media, according to the South China Morning Post.

The myth of the Oarfish solidified after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, which killed over 20,000 people. There were reports of at least a dozen oarfish washing up onto Japan’s coastline in the previous year.

View this post on Instagram

#フィールド 昨日、新湊の定置網でリュウグウノツカイが捕獲されました‼️ サイズは394.8cmで、魚津水族館の記録では4番目の大きさです😁 綺麗な個体なので、 2/2(土)と2/3(日)の2日間限定で展示予定です! 展示中はリュウグウノツカイに触ることができるので、どんな触り心地か確かめてみよう✨ #うおすいレア生物 #リュウグウノツカイ #触ると指が銀色になる#タッチOK #幻の魚 #oarfish #deepsea #nature #beautiful #魚 #珍魚 #さかな #魚津水族館公式 #魚津水族館 #水族館 #富山 #uozuaquarium #aquarium #uozuaquariumofficial #限定 #レア #新湊#新湊漁協

A post shared by 魚津水族館 公式 (@uozuaquarium_official) on

Hiroyuki Motomura, a professor of ichthyology at Kagoshima University, told the South China Morning Post there is a more ordinary explanation for the fish appearing at Toyama bay.

“I have around 20 specimens of this fish in my collection so it’s not a very rare species, but I believe these fish tend to rise to the surface when their physical condition is poor, rising on water currents, which is why they are so often dead when they are found,” he said.

But, according to Rachel Grant, a lecturer in animal biology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, it is “theoretically possible” that oarfish deaths could be a signal of earthquakes to come.

‘Sensitive to Active Faults’

“When an earthquake occurs there can be a build-up of pressure in the rocks which can lead to electrostatic charges that cause electrically-charged ions to be released into the water,” she told Euro News in 2017. “This can lead to the formation of hydrogen peroxide, which is a toxic compound. The charged ions can also oxidise organic matter which could either kill the fish or force them to leave the deep ocean and rise to the surface.”

“There is no scientific evidence at all for the theory that oarfish appear around big quakes,” Uozu Aquarium keeper Kazusa Saiba told CNN. “But we cannot 100 percent deny the possibility.”

Saiba said one possible explanation is subtle changes in the earth’s crust ahead of an earthquake “might cause the current to stir and push creatures at the bottom to the surface.”

Professor Shigeo Aramaki, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, dismissed the fears of social media users as “nothing” according to the South China Morning Post.

“I’m not a specialist in fish, but there is no academic literature that has proven a scientific link to the behaviour of animals and seismic activity,” he said. “I see absolutely no reason for concern and I have seen no updated reports of increased seismic activity in this country in recent weeks.”

Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a specialist in ecological seismology, told Japan Times in 2010, “Deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea.”

The species is characterized by long silver bodies and red fins—it is the longest bony fish in the world, with the longest specimen ever recorded being 35 feet.

Oarfish are extremely thin, from side to side. The maximum recorded weight of an oarfish is approximately 600 pounds (272 kg).

Follow Simon on Twitter: @SPVeazey
RECOMMENDED