Waiting for the big one: giant oarfish start shock waves in LA
Date published: 28th October 2013
Which is why people in Southern California are a little nervous at the news that, this month alone, at least two oarfish have been sighted on their beaches without any visible signs of injury or disease, leading to speculation that they were affected by some deep underwater disturbance.
Rachel Grant, a lecturer in animal biology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, said there might be some truth to the Japanese legend, and she has begun a study to test the idea. "It's theoretically possible because when an earthquake occurs there can be a build-up of pressure in the rocks which can lead to electrostatic charges that cause electrically-charged ions to be released into the water," Dr Grant said. "This can lead to the formation of hydrogen peroxide, which is a toxic compound. The charged ions can also oxidise organic matter which could either kill the fish or force them to leave the deep ocean and rise to the surface."
Another possibility is that prior to an earthquake there is a release of large quantities of carbon monoxide gas, which could also affect oarfish and other deep-sea creatures, Dr Grant said. "The geophysical processes behind these kinds of sighting can happen before an earthquake. I will be watching California closely over the next couple of weeks," she added.
A 4.3-metre oarfish was found on a beach near the city of Oceanside last Friday, while a 5.5-metre specimen was washed up on Santa Catalina Island a few days earlier. Tests on the fish failed to find any obvious reason for the stranding, though on the day following the second beaching, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake was recorded in the Gulf of California.
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