Giant oarfish caught off Sweden

May 17, 2010 • 9:20 am

Yes, it’s at HuffPo, but it’s still true.  The giant oarfish, also known as “the king of herrings” (Regalecus glesne), is the world’s largest bony fish (“teleost”), and  can grow up to 11 meters (36 feet) long!  It’s rarely photographed because it lives in the deep sea, but one just washed up on the coast of Sweden, where it hasn’t been seen for 150 years.  They eat plankton. Until today I didn’t know these creatures existed.

Here’s one about to become an ex-oarfish:

Here’s what appears to be the only existing film of non-dying oarfish, filmed at 1500 feet by an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  Look at that crazy headcomb and undulating dorsal fin!

29 thoughts on “Giant oarfish caught off Sweden

    1. I agree. I reckon that if they get caught, they should be released. Feel the same about Swordfish. Dolphins, Whales etc. There are plenty of other smaller and plentiful fish and shell fish that are meant for eating.

  1. It’s the Loch Ness Monsta! Srsly, though, there could be a creature that looks just like those old Loch Ness “photographs” in the sea somewhere. It’d be awesome if we found it and proved all those crazy Scots weren’t so crazy after all.

      1. the only problem is…if you found a sea creature that looked like Nessie, it wouldn’t be! Nessie is a freshwater creature, so the sea animal could be a distant cousin, but not Nessie 🙁

        Sorry to burst your bubble

        1. unless it was like most other salt water species and able to adapt to brackish water. or as quite a few other salt water species have shown as well, able to adapt to full fresh water conditions.
          “Sorry to burst your bubble”

  2. Ichthyological Taxonomy Police here…

    Not sure where the title “king of herrings” comes from, but oarfish (Lampriformes) are not even closely related to herrings (Clupeiformes).

    1. It’s a Norwegian colloquial name, “Sild Kong” that goes back to the 17th Century at least. Confusingly the same name is applied to a variety of other “unusual” fish (including chimaerids which are even less closely related to Clupeiformes) that are supposed to associate with schooling herring (though in most cases this is probably just chance associations). Supposedly indigenous peoples of the Pacific northwest called Oarfish “king of the salmon”. You have to admit, it is a pretty regal animal.

    2. It’s called “king of herrings” here in Sweden as well. In fact, mirroring Coyne, until today I didn’t know that it could be called “oarfish”.

      Speaking of Ichthyological Taxonomy, I see that “King of herrings”, Regalecus glesne is attributed to Ascanius (1772). Peter Ascanius was a norwegian-danish scientist who studied under Linné (Linnaeus) here in Uppsala.

      Perhaps regalis meaning royal was choosen as the combination of a fair description and a fairly spread local name.

      [The glesne part, however, is derived from the locality, Glesvær, out of Norway.

      Funny, on this norwegian page Ascanius is purely danish. On the international Wikipedia he was purely norwegian. Oh, well.]

      Over to the ITP, who no doubt can tell me if local influences are allowed in taxonomy, and how to attribute nationality to biologists.

      1. if local influences are allowed in taxonomy

        Ah, then again I remembered Tiktaalik. Presumably then there is a gap to push such goodies as local influences into.

  3. Ha! My family had an encyclopedia set circa 1980, and I used to look at the pictures of the crazy ocean fish. I recognized the oarfish immediately.


    Tapio Puolimatka and WEIT is not yet available on the internet but I’m watching the latest episode right now. They are talking about animals, suffering and Dawkins. They say that Dawkins admits in the River out of Eden that there is a designer but it can’t be a loving god. Puolimatka said something like: ”only primates are aware of their pain so there is no problem with cheetahs and gazelles”.

    I can translate, make subtitles and upload the WEIT-episode to youtube when it’s available and if people want to see it.

    1. I don’t know Puolimatka, but he seems to be a professor in philosophy. He appears on some finnish aplogetics wiki as claiming Dawkins has a god. Here it isn’t a designer god but the emotional interest of Dawkins which is his “god”.

      In short, Poulitmaka is making shit up as he goes.

    2. Oh, I forgot; apparently Puolimatka tag teamed with loon Matti Leisola, professor in “bioprocess” technology, to spout base creationism during last Darwin year. That should place him as well. 🙂

  5. I didn’t know the Swedes ate plankton. You can bet those folks are thinking “this will make an awful lot of lutefisk”.

    1. Are you sure they’re not thinking “Now we just need to find the tallest tree in the forest?”

  6. There is (the skeleton of) something very much like that mounted on a wall on the top floor of the conference center at Sunshine City in Tokyo. Could it be the same creature?

  7. I’m completely gob-smacked that Dr. Coyne was unaware of such an amazing creature. No doubt he is aware of hundreds or thousands of creature I have no idea exist. However, I’m glad he came to know the animal known as the Oarfish. Who needs Avatar with a planet so fun.

  8. Am I the only one who looked at the video description with “only non-dieing video” “oil rig” and “Gulf of Mexico” and said “oops?”

  9. The video of the live, apparently healthy oarfish in the Gulf of Mexico makes the current oil gush even sadder.

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