Real Serpent of the Sea

An 18-foot oarfish was found floating off Catalina Island. (Courtesy Catalina Island Marine Institute)

18-foot oarfish found off Catalina Island 'discovery of a lifetime'

Sea serpent? Maybe. Deep-water oddity? Clearly. Amazing discovery? Definitely.

And for the folks at the Catalina Island Marine Institute, it was just plain cool.

An 18-foot-long oarfish, a deep-residing fish rarely seen dead or alive by humans, was found by one of the institute’s instructors in Toyon Bay off Catalina Island, located off the coast of southern California. A CIMI news release described it as a “discovery of a lifetime.”

Even for life-long marine enthusiasts and scientists, like CIMI Toyon Bay program director Jeff Chace, the discovery was a thrilling one.

“I had heard about a couple of them washing up, but even that’s pretty rare,” Chace said. “I’ve been in the ocean my whole life and I’ve never seen one. We’re all pretty excited around here.”

Jasmine Santana, 26, was taking advantage of her week’s only off day as a children’s program instructor at CIMI by snorkeling in Toyon Bay last Sunday. She saw a silver object the size and shape of a half dollar on the bay’s sandy bottom. Closer inspection proved it to be the oarfish carcass.

Santana had not brought a camera on her trip, so she decided to attempt to drag ashore the huge fish, which had only recently died and had its full body intact.

Chace had just returned from Santa Barbara Island with a crew of instructors on the tall ship “Tole Mour,” a school vessel, when he saw Santana in the water, struggling to drag an enormous silver animal into the shallows.

“I knew right away what it was,” Chace said. “Jasmine has been working here for about a year. It just shows you that you never know what you’re going to see. It’s what makes the ocean so amazing.”

Oarfish is the longest bony fish species, reaching up to around 56 feet in length. It can be found in all temperate to tropical waters. It is believed they can dive to depths of more than 3,000 feet, which leaves them largely unstudied. Little is known about their behavior or population.

The species’ size, lampriform shape and its habit of swimming near the surface when sick or dying, likely has made it the source of sea serpent tales for centuries.

It is the first known discovery of an oarfish in the Catalina Island area, although Kent Woods, CIMI’s marketing director, said infant oarfish have been caught in nets in the area on plankton tows.

“In my 32 years here, I have never seen anything like this,” said Mark Johnson, a CIMI employee.Chace said tissue samples from the fish have been sent to Dr. Milton Love, a renowned fish expert at the University of California at Santa Barbara. But CIMI still wants to preserve the discovery.

“We are working to see if we can get the skin off the animal, then take the skeleton and mount it,” he said. “Whether we can or not, we’ll have to see.”

Recommended for You


MLF Pros: What's Your Go-To Lure?

G&F Online Staff - May 20, 2019

When all else fails, here's what these pros tie on.

Fishing How-To

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Larry Larsen

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

Other Hunting

New Gear: MidwayUSA Competition Range Bag

G&F Staff

Perfect for competition or a day at the range.

See More Recommendations

Trending Stories


10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Anietra Hamper - April 02, 2015

We all have our "swear by" bait for catfish. For me, it is chicken liver, live shad or my...


Catfish Night & Day: How to Catch 'Em Both Ways

Terry Madewell - April 04, 2018

Catfish tend to be found in shallower water at night, but they are still active during the...


4 Tips When Jig Fishing For Bass

Chris Schneider - August 25, 2015

A 7 pound giant taken on a jig during the pre-spawn transistion in the Midwest. Although...

See More Stories

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.