Rare 17-foot oarfish washes ashore on a Los Angeles coastal island

Updated 1:45 PM EDT, Wed June 3, 2015
Mountain and Sea Adventures
Now playing
01:00
Rare oarfish washes ashore California beach
EEL
EV Nautilus
EEL
Now playing
00:56
Watch eel change shape right before your eyes
KABB
Now playing
01:08
Stolen shark returned to San Antonio aquarium
mauritius marine conservation _00005617.jpg
mauritius marine conservation _00005617.jpg
Now playing
02:40
Monitoring dolphins in Mauritius
Three members from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Marine Animal Release Team cut the whale free from shark net
Nine News
Three members from the Queensland Boating and Fisheries Marine Animal Release Team cut the whale free from shark net
Now playing
00:47
Australian rescuers free whale from shark net
Female orca Wikie swims with her calf born by artificial insemination on April 19, 2011 at Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France.
VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images
Female orca Wikie swims with her calf born by artificial insemination on April 19, 2011 at Marineland animal exhibition park in the French Riviera city of Antibes, southeastern France.
Now playing
01:24
Killer whale mimics human speech
400 pound fish caught with wrench pkg_00002609.jpg
WFTS
400 pound fish caught with wrench pkg_00002609.jpg
Now playing
01:24
Man catches 400-pound fish with a wrench
large great white shark caught fisherman pkg_00004514.jpg
WJCL
large great white shark caught fisherman pkg_00004514.jpg
Now playing
01:48
Fisherman: I caught a 2,500-pound shark with rod, reel
Millions of sea creatures pyrosomes washing up on oregon coast orig_00000000.jpg
Millions of sea creatures pyrosomes washing up on oregon coast orig_00000000.jpg
Now playing
01:02
Millions of creatures swarm Oregon Coast
Ghostly octopod casper discovery orig vstop dlewis_00000000.jpg
NOAA
Ghostly octopod casper discovery orig vstop dlewis_00000000.jpg
Now playing
00:48
Unknown 'ghostly' octopod discovered
rare seahorse found in california pkg_00010912.jpg
KCBS
rare seahorse found in california pkg_00010912.jpg
Now playing
01:24
Rare sea creature spotted in California waters
Sergey Sverdlov
Now playing
00:54
Close call with shark caught on camera
australia shark 10 foot 3 meter shark queensland pkg atkinson_00001612.jpg
australia shark 10 foot 3 meter shark queensland pkg atkinson_00001612.jpg
Now playing
01:30
10-foot shark caught near surfers in Australia
WPEC
Now playing
01:01
Thousands of sharks migrating off the Florida coast
endangered right whales spotted sebastian inlet florida _00002920.jpg
WESH
endangered right whales spotted sebastian inlet florida _00002920.jpg
Now playing
01:25
Rare endangered whales spotted in Florida inlet
Glenys Howse
Now playing
00:57
Rare 'walking' fish found
Taningia danae whiplash squid vstan orig jnd pkg_00000707.jpg
NOAA
Taningia danae whiplash squid vstan orig jnd pkg_00000707.jpg
Now playing
00:59
Rare deep-sea squid caught on camera

Story highlights

NEW: "To see and touch the longest species of bony fish was amazing," educator says

An oarfish washes ashore on Catalina Island off the Los Angeles coast

Oarfish prefer the abyss of the open ocean and are rarely sighted

Los Angeles CNN —  

Annie MacAulay heard of the legendary deep sea monster for 20 years and then she finally saw it: an oarfish so long that it spanned the length of about three people.

An oarfish isn’t necessarily a pleasant-looking animal. In fact, it may inspire dread in some.

But its mind-boggling size indeed resembles an oar belonging to a galley ship. The giant fish is said to have inspired sailors’ tales of sea serpents.

This week’s discovery is between 14 and 17 feet long, MacAulay estimates. They are rarely seen because they prefer to slither in the deep, open ocean.

It was by accident that MacAulay happened upon the dead oarfish, which had washed ashore on one of Los Angeles’ coastal isles, Catalina Island. She discovered the fish Monday while taking kids on an educational kayaking trip off the island shores, she told CNN.

She hadn’t seen an oarfish in her 20 years residing on the island – until this week. MacAulay is president and CEO of Mountain and Sea Adventures, a nonprofit group promoting environmental awareness.

“Seeing the oarfish yesterday was indeed one of the highlights of my 25-year career as a marine science educator,” MacAulay said Tuesday. “Being able to see and touch the longest species of bony fish was amazing!”

As of Tuesday, the fish remained on the shore of Emerald Bay on the island’s western end, MacAulay said.

The oarfish’s tail was maimed as if another animal had fed on it, and birds have been eating the eyes of the giant creature, she said.

“Even though the beautiful red crest, the eye and part of the tail had been consumed, it was still an incredible sight,” MacAulay said.

Two conservationists were said to have initially found the oarfish while doing early morning breeding bird surveys, said Matt McClain, director of marketing and communications at The Catalina Conservancy, a nonprofit group that protects the pristine island.

Authorities don’t know how the fish died, McClain said.

The last time an oarfish was spotted on Catalina Island was in October 2013.

“It is believed that oarfish dive over 3,000 feet deep, which leaves them largely unstudied, and little is known about their behavior or population,” the Catalina Island Marine Institute said after an oarfish discovery in 2013.