From time to time, the ocean’s depths turn up some revolting creatures that make everyone here on land wish we could forget about them.
But the discovery of two rare fish off the coast of Japan last week creeped out many people for an entirely different reason.
A pair of oarfish were caught in fishing nets last Friday, near the Japanese prefecture of Toyama. A third oarfish was discovered in a net from the same area on Monday, according to The South China Morning Post.
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So far, eight oarfish have been caught in Japan within a year, as each new catch raises more concern for locals that an earthquake or tsunami is due.
The huge, snake-like deep sea fish (one caught last week was 13 feet long) normally live more than 600 feet below the ocean’s surface. For this reason, catching an oarfish or spotting one near the surface has long been considered a bad omen in Japan.
The fish are sometimes called "Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace," as legends say that they wash up on shore before earthquakes and tsunamis.
But there’s no scientific evidence to back up these concerns. Experts say that a number of causes could drive oarfish up to the surface - including temperature changes, or migration to track their food supply.
Experts also suggest that weaker oarfish naturally rise to the surface, which explains why many fish have already died by the time they’re caught.
Still, that hasn’t stopped some people from worrying a disaster is coming.
The fact that a dozen oarfish washed up on shore in the year before Japan’s deadly 2011 Fukushima earthquake has convinced plenty of people that the odd-looking sea creatures are a warning sign from mother nature.
These fish aren’t the only animals that some believe can sense earthquakes. There are plenty of reports from both ancient and modern times of animals like rats, snakes, bees, cats, and dogs fleeing cities before a major disaster, or acting strangely before they strike.
Famously, officials in China ordered the city of Haicheng to be evacuated in 1975, when local animals started behaving erratically. A 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck just a few days later.
It’s possible that unique animal senses help these creatures detect earthquakes before human tools like a seismograph can. But studies on this topic are so difficult to arrange that it’s basically impossible to say for certain if animals really have this special ability.