Two rare deep-sea oarfish caught in fixed nets off Toya port on the southwest side of Okinawa stunned the local fishing community last month for simply being alive.
The oarfish, netted about 2.5 km away from the coast on Jan. 28, were about 4 meters and 3.6 meters long, according to the village of Yomitanâ€™s fisheries cooperative association.
Local fishermen later ate part of one of them.
â€śAlthough Iâ€™ve seen oarfish specimens before, it was the first time for me to see them alive,â€ť said Hajime Kinjo, head of the association.
The rare occurrence even prompted radio station FM Yomitan to broadcast the haul as breaking news.
Unfortunately, the two fish died before arriving at the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium in the town of Motobu. The remains were to be preserved as specimens.
According to the aquariumâ€™s records, the last time oarfish came ashore in Okinawa was about two decades ago near Iejima island, a 30-minute ferry ride away. The Okinawa Times reported an oarfish landing off Kumejima island in 2011.
One of the fish caught on Jan. 28 was torn in half while being unloaded from a ship, prompting local fishermen to eat its fin side as sashimi. They described the texture as jiggly.
Satomi Higa, a 27-year-old member of the fishing association, said she saw the two fish swimming vigorously in the nets.
â€śThey looked like real dragons,â€ť she said.
Hokkaido University Professor Emeritus Kunio Amaoka, who is knowledgeable about deep-sea fish, said it is rare to find an oarfish, even one as long as 4 meters.
He said oarfish generally swim vertically in waters 100 to 300 meters deep. He surmises that the captured fish â€śsomehow gravitated to the surface waters.â€ť
Oarfish, which get as long as 5.5 meters, have long, silvery bodies and a red dorsal fin along the spine that rises to a crest. The elongated species lives in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic oceans.
Some people believe the species is an harbinger of earthquakes. Numerous sightings of the fish have been reported in waters around Japan since the start of the year, generating fears a quake could strike soon.
But no scientific relationship between oarfish sightings and earthquakes has been established.
This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on Jan. 29.