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Written by Damond Benningfield   
Sunday, 29 November 2009

If the oarfish were human, it would probably get nicknames like “Beanpole,” “Stilt,” or “Slim.” That’s because it’s the longest bony fish in the ocean -- a skinny ribbon that can stretch 35 feet or longer.

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A bright red fin runs the length of the oarfish's body. Credit: Wikipedia

And even though it inhabits warm waters around the world -- including along the coasts of the Lower 48 States -- the odds are good that you’ve never seen or even heard of it, because it’s one of the most elusive fish in the oceans. Dead or dying oarfish occasionally wash ashore, but otherwise they’re a rare sight. In fact, the first pictures of a healthy oarfish at sea weren’t snapped until 2001.

Perhaps because oarfish are seen so rarely, sightings may have inspired tales of sea serpents. An oarfish is silver with dark blotches and lines, and it’s topped by a bright red fin that runs the length of the body. The front part of the fin sticks up like a rooster’s comb. So it wouldn’t be surprising if sailors mistook an oarfish for a mythical monster.

Scientists don’t know a lot about the oarfish. It generally stays at depths of a few hundred to a few thousand feet. It doesn’t have any teeth, but it feeds on small shrimp, jellyfish, and squid.

One thing that scientists have learned is that the oarfish may have been named for the wrong reason. Until recently, it was thought that it pushed itself through the water by using its long, skinny pelvic fins like oars. Instead, though, those fins may help this beanpole of a fish “taste” its surroundings.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 August 2009 )
 
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