15-Foot-Long ‘Doomsday’ Fish Washes Up on South American Beach

by Clayton Edwards
(Photo credit: Eric Broder Van Dyke via Getty Images)

Beachgoers in Chile got a shock when they found what some are calling a doomsday fish on the shore. The fifteen-foot-long silver oarfish is a sight to behold. Its long silvery body, oddly-shaped face, and bright red comb that runs from its head down its body-length dorsal fin make it frightening enough to look at. It’s one of those fish that remind you that the ocean is full of nightmare fuel. However, some folks’ fear of these fiendish-looking fish is more than skin deep.

Beachgoers found the doomsday fish on the coast of Isla Talcán in Chile’s Desertores Islands. Someone posted the video of the massive fish to social media. According to the New York Post, many people believe that seeing this fish on land means an earthquake is coming. Commenters on the original post let them know. They said things like “Earthquake is coming” and “We’re all going to die!” But one commenter was a little more ominous. “You don’t have to believe me, but in Chile, that fish is a sign of a bad omen,” they wrote.

The Doomsday Fish Moniker is Linked to Japanese Folklore

Oarfish can get more than 50 feet long. So, the one that washed up on the Chilean beach is small. Usually, these fish lurk between 660 and 3,200 feet below the ocean’s surface. So, seeing them is rare. Add the rarity of their sightings and their overall look and you have the perfect recipe for a doomsday fish.

A 2019 article from Forbes discussed the origin of this belief. In Japanese folklore, the article stated, oarfish are called Ryugu no Tsukai which means Messenger from the Palace of the Sea God. These fish come to the shore to warn people of doomsday-level disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis that usually follow.

The belief that these massive fish can predict doomsday events gained traction in 2011. In March of that year, the earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku killed more than 19,000 people and caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In late 2009 and throughout 2010, dozens of oarfish washed ashore in Japan. “Observers retrospectively connected those sightings with the March 2011 quake based on the oarfish’s role in Japanese earthquake lore.”

In the past researchers have tried to find truth in the doomsday fish lore. Some suggested that tectonic plate movement could generate electromagnetic currents that drove oarfish and other dwellers of the deep to shallow waters.

However, a more recent scientific study could find no link between the two. “One can hardly confirm the association between the two phenomena,” opined Yoshiaki Orihara in a 2019 paper in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America. The paper also explained why they researched the doomsday fish lore. “If this folklore is proven to be true, the appearance of deep-sea fish could be useful information for disaster mitigation, Orihara wrote.