Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 27 Issue 02

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Volume 27, No. 2
Pages 10 - 13


RIPPLE MARKS • Here Be Oarfish—Sea Serpents Are Among Us

By Cheryl Lyn Dybas  
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Davy Jones’ Locker, it might be called, this final resting place of an oarfish. In a darkened back room at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, ichthyologists Jeff Williams and Kris Murphy prepare to break the seal of a time capsule, a faded jar the color of yellow-green sea glass. A container that is a coffin.

Williams and Murphy lift the lead-weight jar from the uppermost shelf at the end of a row in the support center’s fish collection, place it on a steel cart, and wheel it to a lab where fluorescent lights illuminate the contents. And where there are instruments to pry open the tightly shut, one-meter-high by 30-centimeter-wide jar.

Once through the lab’s double-door entrance, Williams tries to free the jar’s top. “That lid is wedged in almost like it was superglued shut,” he says. Finally, after several twists of a wrench, open sesame. Within, a three-meter-long fish with iridescent fins lies in repose, floating in preservative.

The oarfish (Regalecus glesne) washed up near St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, on April 6, 1967. According to a report in the next day’s St. Petersburg Times, retired Rear Admiral Edward Ellsberg found the fish floating in the Gulf surf and dragged it ashore. Ellsberg hauled it to the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries Laboratory in St. Pete Beach. Scientists there donated the oarfish to the Smithsonian…


Dybas, C.L. 2014. Ripple marks—The story behind the story. Oceanography 27(2):10–13, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2014.55.

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