A Southern California science educator had an opportunity to give her students a bonus lesson on June 1 when she happened upon a rare find: a roughly 14-foot dead oarfish, washed up on the beach.
KTLA News reports Annie MacAulay was leading a group of kids on an educational kayak trip off the shores of Santa Catalina Island when they found the strange-looking fish.
Few people have ever seen an oarfish — a long, flat creature that old seafarers used to mistake for a sea serpent. Scientists believe the fish live between 700 and 3,000 feet below the ocean’s surface, according to an article in The Orange County Register.
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MacAulay, the CEO of Mountain and Sea Adventures, a nonprofit group that promotes environmental awareness, told The Orange County Register she counted herself lucky to have been able to see one.
“It was such a coincidence that I was here today,” she said, adding that she rarely leads kayak tours these days. “I’m doing a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff, so I’m not always at camp.”
She told KTLA the find was one of the highlights of her 25 years as a science educator on the island.
“Being able to see and touch the longest species of bony fish was amazing,” she said.
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But MacAulay isn’t taking all the credit.
The fish was reportedly first discovered earlier on June 1 by Amy Catalano and a colleague, both from the the Catalina Island Conservancy, as they were conducting a bird survey near the beach.
"It was amazing, it felt like a movie prop, it looked make-believe almost," Catalano told Reuters about discovering the oarfish.
A spokesman from California State University, Fullerton, told Reuters in an email that the animal’s head, internal organs and reproductive tract will be sent to marine biologist Misty Paig-Tran for research. Other parts of the fish went to other researchers.
Catalano said the fish measured 13 feet 6 inches.
Reuters reported some oarfish have been known to grow more than 20 feet long. The Orange County Register reported some scientists estimate they can grow as long as 50 feet.