LOS ANGELES -- A marine science instructor snorkelling off the southern California coast spotted something out of a fantasy novel: the silvery carcass of a five-metre-long, serpent-like oarfish.
Jasmine Santana of the Catalina Island Marine Institute needed more than 15 helpers to drag the giant sea creature to shore on Sunday.
Staffers at the institute are calling it the discovery of a lifetime.
"We've never seen a fish this big," said Mark Waddington, senior captain of the Tole Mour, CIMI's sail training ship. "The last oarfish we saw was three feet long."
Because oarfish dive more than 900 metres deep, sightings of the creatures are rare and they are largely unstudied, stated CIMI.
The obscure fish apparently died of natural causes. Tissue samples and video footage were sent to be studied by biologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Santana spotted something shimmering about nine metres deep while snorkelling during a staff trip in Toyon Bay at Santa Catalina Island.
"She said, 'I have to drag this thing out of here or nobody will believe me,' " Waddington said.
After she dragged the carcass by the tail for more than 23 metres, staffers waded in and helped her bring it to shore.
"It took 15 or 20 of us to pick it up," Jeff Chace, a program director with CIMI, which runs a camp at Toyon Bay that teaches children to snorkel, kayak and hike, told television station KTBC-TV.
Instructors from CIMI were unloading gear from a trip to Santa Barbara Island when they spotted Santana pulling the oarfish ashore.
"The craziest thing we saw during our two-day journey at sea happened when we got home," instructor Connor Gallagher said in a CIMI news release.
"It's one of these rare, weird things you see in southern California," Chace said of the oarfish.
The carcass was on display Tuesday for students studying at CIMI. It will be buried in the sand until it decomposes and then its skeleton will be reconstituted for display, Waddington said.
The oarfish, which can grow to more than 15 metres, is a deep-water pelagic fish -- the longest bony fish in the world, CIMI stated.
They are likely responsible for sea-serpent legends throughout history.
-- The Associated Press, with files from the Los Angeles Times