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Strange oarfish strandings raise earthquake fears

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Friday, February 1, 2019, 4:37 PM - Members of a famously enigmatic and odd fish species have been making rare appearances off the coast of Japan this week, evoking old superstitions that a new earthquake is destined to strike the country.

At least four oarfish -- ribbon-like bony fish that rarely venture near the surface -- have been seen over the past week, some tangled in fishing nets, others washed up on the coast. That's prompted some concerns, echoing similar reports of oarfish washing up (how many is open to question. CNN says "at least a dozen," Live Science puts it at "about 20") around Japan in the months leading up to the devastating 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which killed some 20,000 people.

The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post refers to some of that anxious buzz largely on social media, but actual experts don't seem too concerned.

“I have around 20 specimens of this fish in my collection so it’s not a very rare species, but I believe these fish tend to rise to the surface when their physical condition is poor, rising on water currents, which is why they are so often dead when they are found,” Kagoshima University's Hiroyuki Motomura, a professor of ichthyology," told the newspaper. "The link to reports of seismic activity goes back many, many years, but there is no scientific evidence of a connection so I don’t think people need to worry."

Despite their grotesque appearance and enormous size, with some being measured in excess of eight metres (says Live Science), oarfish are completely harmless to humans, dwelling up to 1,000 metres below the surface and subsisting largely on plankton.

At least one expert -- Osamu Inamura, the director of Uozu Aquarium in Toyama, Japan -- says their diet may be the key to understanding their recent behaviour.

"When their shrimp supply rises toward plankton during the daytime, the oarfish may sometimes follow and get caught in fishermen's nets," Inamura told CNN.

SOURCES: Live Science | South China Morning Post | CNN | Thumbnail image source

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