NAVSEA Undersea Warfare Center Division Newport
Sighting of Oarfish Filmed
MAY 21, 2001
RARE SIGHTING OF OARFISH FILMED
ANDROS ISLAND, BAHAMAS - Divers from the U.S. Navy's Atlantic Undersea Test
and Evaluation Center (AUTEC), a Detachment of the Naval Undersea Warfare
Center, Newport RI, were startled recently when they were visited by a
strange looking sea creature.
The divers, Brian Kakuk and Bill Cooksey, employees of Range Systems
Engineering Co., a subsidiary of the Raytheon Corp., under contract to the
Navy, were inspecting a buoy installation in the south end of the Bahamian
waters known as the Tongue of the Ocean (TOTO), when a large serpent-like
The creature, never before seen by either of the two veteran divers,
displayed no aggression as it gently swam towards them. Swimming vertically
using only its elongated dorsal fin, the creature, over 5-feet in length,
approached to within an arms-length of the divers.
"It approached and hovered about ten feet away, about 20-feet below the
surface. It looked at us. My first impression was that the eyes moved in
the sockets and followed our movement," said Cooksey. "I approached the fish
and much to my surprise it allowed me to touch the lower part of its body.
It was smooth to the touch and fine scaled like a mackerel," he said.
TOTO is a unique deep water basin, approximately 110-miles (204 km) long and
20 miles (37 km) wide, bounded on two sides by shallow coral reefs and by
Andros Island on the third. TOTO is home to AUTEC, the Navy's principal East
Coast in-water tracking range. TOTO's maximum depth of 6000 feet (2012 m),
smooth basin floor, steep walls and shallow surrounding waters make it an
ideal location for testing antisubmarine warfare systems and tactics of Navy
submarines, surface ships, and aircraft, as well as conducting basic
acoustic, environmental and oceanographic research.
The divers surfaced and picked up a video camera. "We moved away to the buoy
to do a safety stop. I turned around and saw that the fish was following
us," noted Cooksey. "It had incredible control of its elongated pelvic and
dorsal fins. On the ends of these fins were yellow and blue tassels. It
appeared to have control of these "little flags" moving them against the
flow of the current."
"After a few moments of filming it began to swim into deeper water," said
Cooksey. "We dropped from 10 feet to 80 feet quickly. I was amazed that it
could move so fast in its heads up swimming style. It stopped for a moment
and was gone."
Back on shore, the video was reviewed, texts consulted, and creature
identified as an oarfish (Regalecus glesne). The oarfish, although believed
to inhabit all the tropical and temperate oceans of the world, as well as
the Mediterranean Sea, is rarely encountered. Most of what is known of the
animal has been gleaned from carcasses found floating, or washed ashore, in
other parts of the world, and even those finds are rare.
According to one source, the number of people who have actually seen the
fish alive is very small. By all accounts a live oarfish has been
photographed on only two other occasions, one of those times by a sport
diver, also in the waters off AUTEC. This encounter is believed to be the
first time that a live oarfish has ever been captured on video.
The oarfish is thought to prefer living at depths down to 2000 feet, but has
been sighted on occasion near the surface where it has been misidentified as
a sea serpent. Lacking caudal or anal fins, it was once thought to slither
through the water like a sea snake or eel. This recent sighting and a
previous one show that the fish actually swims vertically in the water
column using an undulating dorsal fin to propel it. "The back fin that ran
from its head to the end of its body controlled its movement in the water.
In its heads up attitude the fish had total control of its position in the
water," said Cooksey.
Silver in color with streaks of blue, the oarfish has long oarlike pelvic
fins, a long ribbon-like dorsal fin, and a mane-like crest on top of the
head. The longest known bony fish, oarfish can grow to 20-30 feet in length
with a weight around 600 pounds. There have also been reports of oarfish
that have measured up to 56 feet in length.
The Atlantic Undersea Test and Evaluation Center (AUTEC) consists of deep
water test ranges and research, development, test and evaluation support
facilities located at Andros Island, with administrative and logistic
support offices in Newport, RI and West Palm Beach, FL.
A short video of the encounter as described above is available as an .avi
file <http://www.npt.nuwc.navy.mil/PAO/oarfish.avi> and a . rm file
NOTE: This is a large file and best viewed via a high-speed connection.
This information resides on a DOD interest computer. Please read this
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Last Updated: 26 Jul 2001 15:46:08
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