A scientific article published by Mark Benfield and a team from LSU’s Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, housed in the School of the Coast & Environment, was published online on June 5 by the prestigious Journal of Fish Biology. This paper documented five observations of healthy oarfish from the northern Gulf of Mexico by oceanographers at LSU. The oarfish, or Regalecus glesne, which means king of the herrings, is the world’s longest bony fish. While their maximum size remains a subject of debate, specimens of 25 feet have been reported. Unfortunately, little is known about their behavior because they live in the open ocean, well beyond the continental shelves. They are believed to move between the twilight zone, called the mesopelagic, and the surface. Most of what we know comes from dead or dying oarfish that wash up on beaches, until now.This research is part of the global SERPENT Project (www.serpentproject.com), a research partnership between academia and the oil and gas industry that uses industrial remotely-operated vehicles, or ROVs, to study deep-sea biodiversity.
Using these ROVs, the LSU team obtained incredible footage of these rarely seen fish. Their observations, which span from 2008 – 2011, included the deepest record of an oarfish (493 meters or 1,617 feet) as well as spectacular high-definition footage of an oarfish in 2011. The latter had sufficient resolution to resolve a small crustacean ectoparasite on the oarfish – the first such observation.
Because the footage went viral so quickly, some misinformation regarding the observations has persisted. Many websites are inaccurately reporting that this is the first footage of a live oarfish. Healthy oarfish have been filmed in surface waters of the ocean prior to this study by scuba divers. There also appears to be confusion about the depth and size of the oarfish in the 2011 video. The size of the oarfish observed at 493m in 2008 was estimated to be between 16 – 22 feet. The oarfish observed in 2011 was estimated to be approximately 8 feet long and it was observed near the surface in 58 – 131 meters of water. None of the oarfish were harmed in the study.
This research has captivated the public and the media. The 2011 video observation was uploaded to YouTube by the Deep-Sea News blog. That video had received more than 1.2 million views in less than a week. The story has been reported in media ranging from MSN to the Huffington Post, as well as international outlets such as The Daily Mail, and the French Tribune. National Geographic covered the story and the BBC will feature it in its weekly Earth Unplugged YouTube Project.