VOICES Voices Icon Ideas and Insight From Explorers


Rare Video of “Giant Sea Serpent” Oarfish Caught

Scientists at the GulfSERPENT Project recently captured an oarfish on video near the Gulf of Mexico. Since the video was released, it has appeared on numerous websites and blogs calling it the “first-ever” video of a “sea serpent” and other glamorous names. While these titles may help to get the oarfish video more views, they don’t exactly paint an accurate picture of the video’s importance.

Since first being described in 1772, the oarfish (Regalecus glesne) has maintained somewhat of a celebrity persona in the marine biological world. With its elongated body and prominent dorsal fin, it frequently played the role of “sea monster” in ocean travelers’ folklore. In recent times it’s undergone more serious scientific study, but with one significant obstacle: The specimens available were almost always dead or dying oarfish which had washed ashore or entered shallow waters under stress.

“Oarfish are very much a mid-water to deep-water species,” explained Karla Heidelberg, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California’s Wrigley Marine Science Center. “They’re almost never seen in surface waters.”

The videos captured by GulfSERPENT are thus not significant because they are the first, nor because they capture footage of a sea monster (neither of these claims is accurate). Rather, they offer a unique and high quality glimpse at a creature which until very recently was only understood in its inanimate form.

Mark Benfield, a professor at Louisiana State University, is the leader of GulfSERPENT and was present when the footage of oarfish was taken. He explained that there were actually five videos of oarfish taken between 2008 and 2011, through use of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). The most popular video is the only one in high definition, and was captured in 2011 during research missions about the effects of oil spills. Once they spotted the fish, the team followed it for about ten minutes, Benfield said.

“We weren’t looking for oarfish,” Benfield explained. “This was just sheer luck. We happened to be in the right place at the right time and we were able to spend some time with this oarfish.”

That time paid off. From the footage, Benfield and his colleagues discovered an abundance of information about the creature: that it can be found at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) below the ocean’s surface, that it swims with a linear propeller, and that this particular specimen, seen in the video, had a friend along for the ride.giant oarfish deep underwater

“It was good enough video to catch a parasitic isopod, or what most people probably know as ‘roly polys’ on the oarfish’s dorsal fin,” Benfield explained. (Learn about tongue-eating parasitic isopods.)

But beyond learning details about these few specific oarfish caught on camera, the ROV footage has implications for future underwater studies.

“The deep sea is home to so many organisms we seldom see, and the more chances we get to get out there with ROVs, the more we will learn,” Benfield said.

“People are fascinated by deep space missions, but there are plenty of captivating animals living under the sea.”


  1. SunStormRay
    seoul, South Korea
    March 31, 2015, 8:58 pm

    I think oarfish are really interesting. I wish i could learn some more about them and why they are coming to shore. Thanks for sharing the video.

  2. Day
    gloucester, va, usa
    May 25, 2014, 10:48 pm

    These fish are so cool. Being able to see them alive is awesome, but a little frightening. They are a deep water species after all. Why are they showing up in shallower waters? Not all the oarfish seen recently are in distress or dying. I think we need to look into this more. Perhaps they are an indication of deeper, no pun intended, problems. Anyone with pics or vids, please, feel free to share.

  3. Sandy White
    April 14, 2014, 6:48 pm

    These fish are awesome. I would like to know more about them. Also would like to know more about why they are coming to shore and dying. I really like the live videos of them swimming. Thanks for sharing.

  4. azerbizchan
    inner mongolia
    October 22, 2013, 10:58 am

    Is interest? I wish learn more some large cephalapod. amaaaazzzzing. LOL! liking all

  5. Gary Buchan
    Shetland Islands
    August 12, 2013, 10:47 am

    I have seen a number of these oar fish,or,as we call them,ribbon fish.They are usually brought ashore on pelagic vessels,fishing for blue whiting,to the West of the British Isles and Ireland,caught in 100-200 fathoms deep,and sometimes more.

  6. Budi Satriyo
    July 27, 2013, 6:01 am

    And we sure to Biodiversity Indonesian waters can increasing to variation of deep sea knowledge on the world.

  7. Budi Satriyo
    Jakarta, Indonesia
    July 27, 2013, 5:57 am

    exactly, The deep sea researchs have many mistery. especially in indonesian waters. I have deep sea reserchs programs come to action in Indonesian waters.

  8. zan kuhami
    June 20, 2013, 11:11 am

    i want to know more about aorfish…

    June 18, 2013, 10:20 am

    سبحان الله

  10. lamaa
    June 18, 2013, 4:02 am

    :DDD amazzngggg, its soooo smoothhh and the things on the head WOOOOW

  11. Paula
    June 18, 2013, 1:09 am

    I’ve worked with ROV’s on these vessels before… The problem here is that this video dates back to 2008…

  12. Salazryl Ismail
    June 18, 2013, 12:36 am

    Looks very interesting. I want to find out more about this sea creature.

  13. Raul
    June 18, 2013, 12:36 am

    Impressive! Makes me think about the old Aztec and Mayan mythologies of the Quetzalcoatl. What a great find (actual video footage) for humankind.