Weird Gramma
Previous Editions
A stamp issued by the Republic of Palau in 2000; the oarfish is called a “roosterfish” there.
WeirdFins
Giant Oarfish
An oarfish caught in 1993 in Isla del Marco, Baja California South, Mexico.
Photo: Michael Hans Kanzler, Bloodydecks

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“WeirdFins” here, all about strange stuff in the sea, and I’m Weird Gramma. This one’s for Bill in Alexandria, Virginia, and it’s about a real-life sea monster that’s shiny silver and has a big red crest on its head. Well, Bill, this is really an oarfish, and at 50 feet, probably the longest of all fishes. Whale and basking sharks are a little shorter, but much heavier—20 tons or so. That’s as much as four elephants!

Maybe this guy’s called an oarfish because the long, red fin running along its back makes the body look like a boat oar,, or because it has long paddle-shaped fins below the head. But this thing is about as flat as you can get, like a giant ribbon, which is why it’s also called a ribbonfish. And because it’s silvery like a herring, some people call it “king of herrings.” When an oarfish swims, it looks like a long, skinny flag waving in the water. Sick and dying oarfish float at the surface, which is why old-time sailors mistook them for sea serpents. The only real sea serpents, of course, are sea snakes, and most of them are only 3 to 6 feet long.

But an oarfish can weigh as much as 3 big men, up to 600 pounds, although it’s pretty wimpy, with a dinky head and mouth only good for feeding on tiny plankton. Do people eat them? Well, smaller ones are sometimes caught by fishermen, but their flesh is flabby and gooey, so you won’t find them in many seafood restaurants. And although they’re most common in warmer seas, you probably won’t see a living oarfish because they live in oceans that are very deep.

You can see what an oarfish looks like on the National Marine Fisheries Service WeirdFins link at www.nmfs.noaa.gov.

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