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Reports of oarfish turning up on shore have historically preceded earthquakes — leaving scientists pondering how some animals may be able to forecast the future.

Regalecus glesne, or the oarfish, is the longest bony fish alive and can grow up to 36 ft in length. These deep sea creatures preside in temperate and tropical oceans around the world — but are rarely ever seen.

These mystical animals are regarded in Japan as ryugu no tsukai or “messengers from the sea god’s palace,” and serve an important purpose within their culture. Sightings of oarfish are correlated to upcoming earthquake activity, an omen taken very seriously in Japan.

Oarfish are unable to handle the turbulence of shallow waters and are rarely seen on the surface. When these animals are found beached and lifeless, scientists are left theorizing possibilities.

The surfacing of oarfish has preceded earthquakes multiple times throughout history, establishing an unusually powerful link between animal behavior and natural disasters.

In 2010, fishermen in Chile discovered a multitude of these creatures during the horrible 8.8 magnitude earthquake.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Similarly in 2011, twenty oarfish were spotted on beaches shortly before the Tohoku earthquake struck Japan and were later analyzed to have surfaced where the seismic event caused the most catastrophic damage.

These correlations have led scientists to look more closely at the relationship of animals with their environments. As for oarfish predicting earthquakes, a wildlife specialist reported an important observation to the Japan Times. “Deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea.”

This explanation, as well as other historic documentation of altered animal behavior in the face of impending natural events, has resulted in further research into the sensitivity of animals to changes in their surroundings. These studies may help establish earlier evacuation times in the wake of disasters and in theory save thousands of lives.