Sea serpents are surfacing all over the world. Though seafarers’ legends vary in their descriptions of mysterious sea creatures, it’s long been believed that the oarfish is one of them; also know as the ribbonfish or the king of herrings, it’s the ocean’s longest bony fish, running up to 15 m in length and sporting a red dorsal fin the length of its body. They are a deep-sea fish, usually only seen by humans when they wash up dead on shore, which is what happened last week in Sweden—the first time an oarfish, which prefers more temperate waters, has been seen in Sweden in 130 years.
In February 2009, two oarfish turned up on North Sea beaches in the U.K. This past February, 10 oarfish washed up on the north coast of Japan, where the oarfish is also known as “the messenger from the sea god’s palace.” Oarfish sightings are thought to be harbingers of earthquakes in Japan, both in traditional lore and among scientists who believe deep-sea fish behave differently following movements in seismic fault lines. Also in February, scientists working on an offshore drilling project in the Gulf of Mexico got the first known video footage of a live, healthy oarfish at its natural depth—though no one in that troubled area is holding their breath for a repeat sighting these days.