Sea serpents’ arrival puzzling, or portentous?

by Daiki Yamamoto

Kyodo News

TOYAMA — A rarely seen deep-sea fish regarded as something of a mystery has been giving marine experts food for thought recently after showing up in large numbers along the Sea of Japan coast.

The “ryugu no tsukai” (slender oarfish) — or “Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace” — has a long, slender reddish fin and has been compared with a snake. It is akin to an oarfish, which has a dorsal fin running the length of its body and has been called a sea serpent.

There have been reports of the fish being caught in stationary nets or drifting ashore since the start of winter. Some people theorize the phenomenon may foretell a big quake, but others aren’t so sure.

One fish was found on the beach in Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture, in December followed by one in offshore nets in Takaoka and another off Nyuzen, both in the same prefecture, earlier this year.

Four others drifted ashore at Chirihama beach in Ishikawa Prefecture in the first two months of this year, while 10 were discovered in stationary nets during the holidy period in Miyazu, Kyoto Prefecture.

Additional “messengers” have been reported in Iwate, Hyogo, Shimane, Yamaguchi and Nagasaki prefectures.

The life and habits of the fish are not well known. They are said to measure more than 5 meters in length and to be living at depths of 200 meters to 1,000 meters in the open sea.

Yoshiaki Kai, an assistant professor at Kyoto University’s Maizuru Fisheries Research Station, said: “I have never heard of so many of them coming up like this. There have been occurrences of fishermen releasing them into the sea after catching them in stationary nets because they couldn’t sell them on the market.”

An old saying has it that the fish comes to the beach as an omen of a big earthquake.

Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a specialist in ecological seismology and director of the nonprofit organization e-PISCO that studies signs of earthquakes, said, “Deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea.”

But he said the deep-sea fish found in nets or on beaches did not seem to be directly connected with earthquakes.