A bizarre 10-foot oarfish was discovered in the salt marsh at Aramoana Spit in Dunedin, New Zealand. Don Gibbs, a local resident, found the long blade-like creature lying on a beach and immediately called the Department of Conservation (DOC).
DOC service manager David Agnew arrived in a rush to examine the specimen on the shore, which he was unable to identify. Never in his 8-year stay in Dunedin or his 20-year tenure with the DOC had he seen something like this.
''It must have just washed up and it was very fresh. It's a very weird looking creature," Agnew said. "Instead of scales it has this smooth skin, like tinfoil, and if you rubbed it the silver would come onto your hand.'' He took some pictures and sent them to University of Otago.
Tessa Mills, manager at New Zealand Marine Studies Center and Aquarium in University of Otago was able to confirm its identity as an oarfish — a surprising find for a cold-water area.
''They are usually found in deep water in tropical temperatures, but I think they do come up to feed on the surface,'' she said.
The Otago Museum later took organ and tissue samples of the oarfish to try and discern the reason it had washed up ashore and the cause of its death. The museum has a preserved oarfish of its own, displayed in a deepwater creatures diorama.
Oarfish, which can grow up to 36 feet in length, swim vertically in deep water and have the tendency to self-amputate — biting off a part of the tail. They feed by straining zooplankton, small crustaceans and squid from the water. Oarfish are deep-sea dwellers, and so live sightings are rare — most observations are limited to beached creatures.
The oarfish's habit of swimming near the surface when ill or dying make it a likely source for sea serpent tales. Although the habitat makes the theory highly improbable, some have suggested that Scotland's fabled Loch Ness monster could actually be an oarfish.
[Photo: J Aaron Farr | Flickr]