An Oarfish was found ashore in Barangay Rojales, Carmen, Agusan del Norte, on February 15.
Photo: Elesa Rosé Jane Allocod
Philippines: In the know: Can Oarfish predict earthquakes?
By Nicko Tubo, 20th February 2017;
Days before and after the 6.7-magnitude earthquake that devastated Surigao City and its nearby provinces, multiple sightings of giant Oarfish (Regalecus sp.) in Mindanao were reported.
On February 8, two days before the earthquake that killed eight people and injured more than 200, a 10-foot long Oarfish was found ashore in Carmen, Agusan del Norte, which is located approximately 168 kilometers away from Surigao City.
Since the first sighting, five more Oarfish were found ashore off Mindanao’s northern coast. The latest sighting was last February 18, when a 20-foot Oarfish was found in Barangay Gusa, Cagayan de Oro City. The sea creature was still alive when found by the residents, but it died later.
The sightings have sparked debates and discussions on social media, on whether the sea creature can predict earthquakes.
But do Oarfish have the ability to predict earthquakes?
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Oarfish are the longest bony fish in the sea, growing to 50 feet or more in length.
Oarfish, commonly mistaken as sea serpents, are rare but can be found in areas with tropical and temperate waters like the Philippines. The creature lives near the sea bottom at about 3,000 feet.
NOAA said that not much is known about the habits and life of Oarfish, but most of them come to the surface when injured or dying.
An article posted in National Geographic website said that Oarfish are known in Japan as the “Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace.” According to folklore, if many of the fish wash up, an earthquake is coming.
Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a scientist who studies earthquakes, said in an article posted on Japan Times that “deep-sea fish living near the sea bottom are more sensitive to the movements of active faults than those near the surface of the sea.”
In a 2010 report of the Daily Telegraph, the appearance of more than a dozen of Oarfish in Japan was followed by destructive earthquakes in Chile, Haiti, and southern Taiwan.
“In ancient times, Japanese people believed that fish warned of coming earthquakes, particularly catfish,” Hiroshi Tajihi, deputy director of the Kobe Earthquake Centre, said in the same report of the Daily Telegraph.
Tajihi, however, said there is no scientific relationship between the sightings and an earthquake.
“These are just old superstitions,” he said.
Rachel Grant, a lecturer in animal biology at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, said in an article posted on the Independent news website in October 2013 that the Japanese traditional belief might be true.
“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,” said Grant.
Grant, however, said that Oarfish sightings can also be caused by other factors not connected with earthquakes.
“It may be due to seismic activity or it may be due to other factors unconnected with earthquakes, such as infrasound caused by underwater activities, such as military submarines, or pollution,” she said.
Experts have different perspectives, but as far as seismologists are concerned, more studies are needed to prove that Oarfish can predict earthquakes.
The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology also said there are no scientific instruments that can predict when an earthquake will occur.