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.
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.
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.