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Rare 'earthquake fish' spotted in waters off northeast Taiwan

Oarfish live at depths between 300 and 1,000 m and are a rare sight in shallow waters

An oarfish spotted in waters off Taiwan's northeast coast, June 28. (Facebook, Wang Cheng-ru screenshot)

An oarfish spotted in waters off Taiwan's northeast coast, June 28. (Facebook, Wang Cheng-ru screenshot)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Divers captured rare footage this week of an oarfish swimming near the surface of the ocean in waters off the coast of northeast Taiwan earlier this week.

The footage was captured on Wednesday (June 28) by a diving instructor named Wang Cheng-ru (汪承儒) off the coast of New Taipei's Ruifang District, east of Keelung. Wang shared the exciting footage on his Facebook page, where it was noticed by several news outlets.

The oarfish (Regalecus russelii) is often referred to as the earthquake fish, since it usually lives in deep waters around 1,000 meters below the surface. Some local traditions assert that they swim toward the surface either immediately before or after large seismic activity.

The oarfish in Wang’s video appears to be about 2 meters long and has two large round scars on its body. Marine biologists who reviewed the footage believe the round marks are bitemarks from a cookiecutter shark, also known as a cigar shark.

Wang said that there is an incredible amount of biodiversity off Taiwan’s northeast coast. Even so, after 10 years of diving and observing wildlife in the area, this week was the first time that Wang had seen a living oarfish, reported UDN.

They are adapted to living in very still, deep waters and typically do not develop the muscle to contend with stronger currents closer to the surface. The oarfish spotted by Wang and the divers most likely returned to warmer waters near the surface to lay eggs.

Typically, the long ribbon-like oarfish are found by fishermen floating near the surface, either dead or close to death. They also occasionally drift toward shore. In early June, a fisherman in Taiwan’s Taitung hooked an oarfish from shore, which measured 6 meters long and almost 130 kilograms.