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Giant Oarfish Washes up on Catalina Island

Jun 08, 2015 12:20 PM EDT

(Photo : Twitter/Catalina Conservancy)

A dead giant oarfish was found washed up on a Catalina Island beach last week, providing scientists the rare opportunity to study the rare and mysterious deep-sea creature, officials said Wednesday.

On June 1, Amy Catalano and wildlife biologist Tyler Dvorak, both of the Catalina Island Conservancy, were conducting a bird survey near Emerald Bay on Catalina Island, which is located off the coast of California. There, they stumbled upon the remains of a 13-foot-long oarfish, which is believed to have washed ashore just minutes prior.

"It was amazing, it felt like a movie prop, it looked make-believe almost," Catalano told Reuters.

Oarfish sightings are extremely rare, given that these fish are known to live in the open ocean anywhere from 500 to 3,000 feet deep. The majority of what scientists know about these serpent-like creatures comes from past studies of oarfish that have washed ashore in different parts of the world.

"Researchers have found some washed ashore in San Diego and New Zealand, too," Matt McClain, the conservancy's director of marketing and communication, told ABC News. "They're definitely not common to see but also not super-duper rare."

This particular oarfish measured about 13.5 feet (4.1 meters) long, said Catalano, although they can grow to be more than 50 feet (15 meters) long, according to the NOAA.

Their long, shiny and silvery bodies have caused many to mistake them for sea serpents, but they are really the longest bony fish at sea. They are best recognized by the bright red dorsal fin on their heads, which runs the length of their bodies.

While biologists don't know why these giant fish surface, they suspect either oarfish are washed toward beaches by storms or they come to the surface when they're injured or dying, Live Science reports.

The specimen's head, guts, reproductive tract and other parts were sent to California State University, Fullerton, where scientists will study the remains in hopes of learning more about the habits and life cycles of the mysterious oarfish.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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