It's certainly not every day you bump into a sea serpent on the beach! Brothers Noah and Jacob Thompson were on a fishing trip in Mexico last month when they stumbled across a rare find: a juvenile oarfish thrashing in the shallows. The duo were quad-biking down a beach near La Capilla in Baja California’s East Cape region when they came across the silvery wash-up.

© Noah Thompson

While the sight of an oarfish would baffle most, Noah Thompson identified the creature immediately. "When I was young I’d always seen pictures of these things and dreamed of being able to hold one," Jacob told For The Win Outdoors. "Obviously I couldn’t believe it at first. I was running up to this thing. I’d seen orange on him and I just lost it. I turned around and started screaming at my brother to come look at this thing."

Oarfishes (typically in the genus Regalecus) tend to prefer deep water – up to 1,640 feet (500 metres) down – so finding one in the shallows is rare. They can grow to a staggering 110 feet (36 metres) long, however, the latest find was a juvenile and only measured in at about 8 feet (2.4 metres). Amazingly, the deep-sea dwelling fish was still alive when the Thompsons found it and they were able to guide it back into deeper water (It's unclear if the oarfish survived – if you do encounter one, it's best to contact the relevant wildlife authorities before attempting a rescue).

© Noah Thompson
© Noah Thompson
© Noah Thompson

"It took [it] a moment to be able to stabilise and hold itself upright," Noah Thompson said. "We watched it for a couple minutes while it was trying to make its way out and then we actually saw [it] disappear out towards some deeper water."

This is not the first time a live oarfish has made an appearance off the coast of Baja. Back in 2013, two sightings of live specimens were recorded in the area raising questions about why the fish keep turning up here. The exact reasons, however, remain a mystery. Some speculate that the deep-sea fish are susceptible to injury during rough storms and they simply float inshore. Others suggest that shifting currents could play a role in redistributing oarfish prey like plankton, crustaceans and squid – forcing oarfish to spend more time in the shallows.

Some explanations are embedded in the mystical. Oarfish are so rarely seen and their appearance so unusual that, over the years, they have become characters in lore and myth inspiring ancient mariner's tales of sea serpents. In Japanese folklore, they are considered harbingers of earthquakes. While their spiny fins and ribbon-like bodies are certainly extraordinary, their ability to predict seismic activity is not. New research refutes the long-held belief in Japanese culture that oarfish emerge from the depths when an earthquake is about to hit. 

© Noah Thompson

That's not to say that we shouldn't pay attention when one turns up though. Little is known about these snake-like denizens of the deep so any information scientists can glean to further our knowledge of oarfish can go a long way.

"Understanding that not many people get to see those creatures, while they’re still alive, at least, is much cooler than any other fish we could’ve caught with a fly rod," Noah Thompson told For The Win Outdoors. "I did not think I was ever going to see one of those in my lifetime."

Top header image: CSUF Photos, Flickr