Oarfish appearances stir fears of earthquake, tsunami in Japan

A large number of oarfish have appeared around E. Japan's Toyoma Bay in recent weeks, with some wondering if a disaster may be approaching

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An oarfish caught off eastern Japan

An oarfish caught off eastern Japan (By Associated Press)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – On Friday Feb. 1, two deep-sea oarfish were caught in fishing nets in Toyoma Bay on Japan’s west coast, following a number of others found in January, sparking fears of an impending natural disaster.

Known in traditional Japanese folk lore as the “Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace,”(竜宮の使い) the large serpent-like oarfish are considered a bad-omen that may portend a deep sea earthquake and tsunami.

Scientists dispute such claims, but similar superstitions persist throughout the world. The oarfish typically lives between 200 to 1,000 meters below sea, and when they are caught by fishermen or wash up on shore, many speculate it is because of some major disruption deep beneath to ocean that sends them to the surface.

In addition to the two fish caught Friday, a 3.2 meter oarfish washed up on the shore of the in the middle of the week, and a four meter oarfish was found tangled in fishing nets near Izumu port on Monday.

SCMP reports that over a week earlier two more of the fish were caught in the Toyoma Bay area. The two oarfish caught Friday bring the count to seven this discovered this season, according to a CNN report.

A professor of ichthyology at Kagoshima University, Hiroyuki Motomura, was quoted by the New York Post.

“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.”

Following the major tsunami in 2011, many people in Japan began to revisit superstition surrounding the oarfish, as over a dozen oarfish had washed onto Japan’s shores over the previous year, reports CNN.

Another theory for the sudden appearance of the oarfish coming to the surface could be a simple shift in plankton migration, potentially caused by global warming.

Some scientists suggest that the older, weaker oarfish may be susceptible to tidal currents, and unable to escape back to the depths if they approach too near to the surface during a hunt for food, which may explain why the oarfish are found dead on shore.


(Photo from Uozu Aquarium Instagram acct.)