You won’t be able to row with this oar and it could spell disaster!

Some strange creatures arrive as donations to the East London Museum and a show stopper is this oarfish (illustrated below) which was received by colleague Greg Brett. So what’s the connection between this specimen and the earthquake that hit Japan earlier this year? Read on!

Greatly elongated and rarely seen, the specimen below washed out at Gonubie (north of East London, SA – donated by P. Botha, May 2008). Most of what has been scientifically learned about the species is from specimens that have washed ashore or from those accidently caught by fishermen at night. They are known to be attracted to the lights of the fishing boats.

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The following excerpt appeared in the The Telegraph (UK) on the 4th march 2010 …. remember when the earthquake hit Japan? Almost exactly a year later, on the 11th March 2011 a huge earthquake struck Japan (8.9 on the Richter scale).

Oarfish omen spells earthquake disaster for Japan

Japan is bracing itself after dozens of rare giant oarfish – traditionally the harbinger of a powerful earthquake – have been washed ashore or caught in fishermen’s nets.

Oarfish omen spells earthquake disaster for Japan

The giant oarfish can grow up to five metres in length and is usually to be found at depths of 1,000 metres Photo: NORBERT WU / MINDEN PICTURES

By Julian Ryall in Tokyo

7:00AM GMT 04 Mar 2010 

The appearance of the fish follows Saturday’s destructive 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile and the January 12 tremors in Haiti, which claimed an estimated 200,000 lives.

A quake with a magnitude of 6.4 has also struck southern Taiwan.

This rash of tectonic movements around the Pacific “Rim of Fire” is heightening concern that Japan – the most earthquake-prone country in the world – is next in line for a major earthquake.

Those concerns have been stoked by the unexplained appearance of a fish that is known traditionally as the Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace.

The giant oarfish can grow up to five metres in length and is usually to be found at depths of 1,000 metres and very rarely above 200 metres from the surface. Long and slender with a dorsal fin the length of its body, the oarfish resembles a snake. 

According to traditional Japanese lore, the fish rise to the surface and beach themselves to warn of an impending earthquake – and there are scientific theories that bottom-dwelling fish may very well be susceptible to movements in seismic fault lines and act in uncharacteristic ways in advance of an earthquake – but experts here are placing more faith in their constant high-tech monitoring of the tectonic plates beneath the surface.

“In ancient times Japanese people believed that fish warned of coming earthquakes, particularly catfish,” Hiroshi Tajihi, deputy director of the Kobe Earthquake Centre, told the Daily Telegraph.

“But these are just old superstitions and there is no scientific relationship between these sightings and an earthquake,” he said.


About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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