The odd myth behind California's beached oarfish

This Friday Oct. 18, 2013 image provided by Mark Bussey shows an oarfish that washed up on the beach near Oceanside, Calif. This rare, snakelike oarfish measured nearly 14 feet long. According to the Catalina Island Marine Institute, oarfish can grow to more than 50 feet, making them the longest bony fish in the world. (AP Photo/Mark Bussey) MANDATORY CREDIT
Kevin Chupka
·Executive Producer/Writer

Two large oarfish, slender snakelike sea creatures, have washed ashore in California in the last two weeks. While their appearance may conjure thoughts of mythical sea serpents, another legend suggests their death could actually spell disaster.

According to Japanese lore and fishermen, the animals have close ties to earthquakes.

If Japanese stories are to be believed, the aquatic giants, which usually live more than 3,000 feet below the surface and away from human eyes, come up to the surface and beach themselves as a prequake warning bell.

Case in point: According to several reports, in the months after an 8.8 magnitude quake in Chile in 2010 and a year before the giant March 2011 tremor that rocked Japan, several oarfish, called “Messenger from the Sea God's Palace” in Japanese, were either beached or caught near the quake’s epicenter off the coast of Honshu.

While it is rare to see oarfish either dead and alive, Milton Love, marine biologist and author of "Certainly More Than You Want to Know About The Fishes of The Pacific Coast,” says there probably isn’t much of a link between the fish and earthquakes.

“These animals most likely didn’t die due to seismic activity,” he told Yahoo. Love points out that the fish seen leading up to the Japanese quake were not found immediately before or after the event, but rather months removed and were likely unconnected to the catastrophe.

He does believe however that the same event most likely killed both fish that washed ashore in California this month. He notes that the animals are poor swimmers and that something as simple as a current carrying them into rough waters could be lethal. Love suggests there could even be more dead oarfish lying on the bottom of the ocean off the coast of California, far from human eyes.

The beaching of oarfish is just the latest in a series of similar incidents over the past several months. Last spring scientists began investigating ill sea lions along the coast of Southern California, and across the country on the East Coast the summer was full of reports of dead dolphins washing ashore.

As for the oarfish, do you believe they could be a warning bell or is it just a harmless myth from across the Pacific?