Catalina Island Marine Institute science instructor Jasmine Santana was diving off the shores of Catalina Island, just south of Los Angeles, when she discovered a real-life 'sea monster' floating near the floor of Toyon Bay.
"I was thinking, 'What could this be?' It's so big! We usually don't have anything that long in our bay. … We snorkel here almost daily, so it's crazy to find this," she said to the New York Daily News.
It wasn't actually a sea monster, though, and Santana quickly figured out what it really was — a five and a half metre-long oarfish.
This rare creature, which can grow up to 17 metres long and is extremely thin (thus the reason for its name), is apparently responsible for most of the sea serpent and sea monster myths throughout history. They live far beneath the ocean's surface, and although they've been found washed up on shores around the world from time to time, apparently only one has ever been seen alive, in the wild. Despite the fearsome legends, they are considered harmless to humans, feeding mostly on microscopic plankton and tiny crustaceans like krill and shrimp.
Realizing that this oarfish was dead, Santana swam back to shore, grabbed a pair of gloves, and tried to pull the massive fish back to land with her. However, once she got there, it was far too heavy to lift on her own and 15 of her coworkers had to help get it out of the water.
Samples of the unfortunate fish were taken for study, but based on the fact that it was completely intact, it seems to have died of natural causes. According to the NY Daily News, the oarfish is currently being preserved on ice. The staff hope to bury it at the beach, so that they can eventually display its picked-clean skeleton at the Institute.
[ More Geekquinox: Texas fisherman has extremely close call with lightning bolt ]
In Japan, finding one of these oarfish washed up on shore is considered to be an extremely bad omen. Already thought of as a herald for disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, as an unfortunate coincidence that might reinforce the myth, one of these was found on shore just a week before the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan's east coast in March of 2011.
Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!