In every contact of the bizarre and the primal, man tends to concede to fear. When faced with the divine and the arcane, we yield to reverence. For it is the nature of man to be wary and respectful, frightened even, to all things that we have little or no knowledge about.
The ocean is one of the last places in the world not fully discovered by men. It’s rage and grace, man has yet to conquer. One can only marvel on the secrets lying in its depths or dream of the answers hidden on its floors. We know little about it and we still struggle to learn more about and everything in it. If there is one finite story to describe the sea, it is an alien world lying just right around us, home to creatures, majestic and perilous as its frame, dark and grotesque like its depths. Imagine yourself, sailing the vast stretch of water or exploring the deep chasms and encountering its denizens. Monsters and horrors of the deep. How many such encounters gave birth to creatures of myth? Countless. The sea seems to be the commonplace to house such tales and creatures. Kraken, Cetus, Makara, Bakunawa, Jörmungandr, Scylla.
“Ryugu no tsukai.” The messenger from the Sea Dragon God’s palace. The Japanese name for the oarfish, on which according to their myth, serve as the messenger of the Sea Dragon God, Ryujin. Tasked to die in the surface, and warn men of impending earthquakes and tsunamis.
The oarfish is the longest and largest species of bony fish, known for their ribbon-like, elongated body and belongs to the small family, Regalecidae which contains four species and two genera. (Regalecidae is derived from the Latin word, regalis which means “royal.”) The most famous of these are known as the giant oarfish or Regalecus glesne, from the Latin word regalecus which means “belonging to a king.” Other names include ribbonfish, pacific oarfish, king of herrings and streamer fish. The oarfish is found in all temperate and tropical oceans and can grow up to 11 meters in length though there are reports of growth up to 17 meters and can weigh up to 270 kilograms. The body is scale-less and covered with silvery guanine which can be easily abraded. Oarfish colors vary. It has silvery blue skin and red dorsal fin running along its length. Their lanks are covered with irregular bluish to blackish streaks, squiggles and black dots that fades quickly upon death.
The oarfish is believed to have inspired the lore of ferocious sea serpents but in contrast to the legends, they are in fact gentle freakish and scary maybe because of their snake resemblance, but they are hardly dangerous to people. Oarfish have weird and large black eyes and their stranding is believed to foretell the coming of an earthquake. They have a small yet highly protrusible oblique mouth with no visible teeth and feeds mainly on planktons, smaller crustaceans, jellyfish, squids, and shrimps by selectively straining.
The oarfish is likely prey to sharks and other large ocean predators. They are regarded to be inedible because of their gelatinous meat. They are however considered game fish. Live encounters are rare, and actual footages show that it swims vertically, while keeping the body itself straight, with their head up while undulating the dorsal fin. Adult oarfish are solitary and can be found to depths of 600 up to 3,300 feet. Oarfishes have very little muscle mass, such that they cannot survive the sea surface’s wilder currents though they are believed to have this weird habit of swimming up the surface when they’re sick or dying.
(Sources: Wikipedia, the daily beast, national geographic)
Photos of beached oarfish are making rounds online lately. Some believed it to be an ill omen. It was only recently that a number of stranded oarfish surfaced in the news prior to the 6.7 magnitude earthquake that hit Surigao del Norte that claimed 4 lives and 90 wounded, with damage amounting to approximately 67.8 million pesos. An 8.8 magnitude struck Chile back in March 2010 after the discovery of stranded oarfishes. A number of oarfish stranded themselves on the beaches around Tohoku, Japan back in 2011 before an earthquake and tsunami hit the area. It has become a debate whether oarfish and some animals can detect earthquakes or not though most researchers believed that animals can sense or are more sensitive to seismic activities.
Though far from actual earthquake prediction, many people actually believe the myth of the ryugu no tsukai due to a number of incidents of oarfish stranding followed by an earthquake. Some people even claim to try to guide or drive them back to the sea though all accounts eventually still led to stranding hence the theory of oarfishes going up the surface to die, but this or whether the oarfish can detect earthquakes, remains to be seen as studies of these strange creatures are seldom made due to the considerable nature of their ecology. Whether or not, the myth claims true, the message is there: Remain Vigilant!