Dr. Bridie Allan, a marine biologist serving at the University of Otago, was unwinding at Aramoana Beach in Dunedin, New Zealand on April 25 when she saw another beachgoer, Isaac Williams, examining something in the shallows. Allan quickly realized that Williams had stumbled upon a giant oarfish.
Named for their resemblance to a long wooden oar, these rare marine creatures traditionally inhabit water exceeding 2,700 feet, making sightings of living oarfish extremely uncommon. There are several deep-water canyons near Aramoana Beach, perhaps where the oarfish lived. The water goes from deep to shallow quickly, making it possible for deep-sea fish to get trapped in the shallows, where they are often targeted as prey by seabirds and other predators. Williams recorded a video of the fish, which Allan posted on Twitter.
A group of concerned individuals led by Allan attempted to revive the giant fish to no avail. “It was alive but very clearly distressed,” Allan told The Stuff. She estimated the fish to be roughly 12 feet in length. “It was very weakly alive. It wouldn’t have survived. I’ve seen enough dead fish to know it was on its last legs.”
This isn’t the first time that an oarfish has been found on the shores of southern New Zealand. In 1883, one of the first examples of the species was discovered to the north of Otago near Moeraki Beach and was subsequently sent to London, where today, the 12.8-foot specimen resides in the National History Museum. Other oarfish that appeared in the area over the years include a 10.8-footer found in 1887 and a 12.6-footer in 1960, as well as an oarfish at Aramoana beach in 2015.
On average, the Dunedin oarfish have measured 10 to 12 feet in length. Those specimens are relatively small compared to oarfish discovered elsewhere. In 1963, an oarfish estimated at over 35 feet was seen off the New Jersey coastline. Fifty years later, the carcass of a 16-footer was discovered off the coast of southern California.