Video: Rare ‘mirror-like’ oarfish dances for the camera

By Candice Marshall 28 June 2022
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Regalecus russellii – a rare species of oarfish – has never been caught on camera anywhere on Australia’s East Coast. Until now.

Master Reef Guide Tahn Miller was leading a group of snorkellers on the Great Barrier Reef when he saw a glistening silver ‘sword-like’ fish dancing through the shallows.

“It had a mirror finish, like perfectly polished silver, and was as straight as an arrow, almost having the initial appearance of a newly-forged sword,” says Tahn. “It was undulating like mini waves propelling through the water.”

“At first I couldn’t quite place what species of fish it was, but then I saw the shiny mercury-coloured body, two predominant eyes, and the ultra-fine dorsal fin running head to tail. I knew we had come across something rarely seen on the Great Barrier Reef.”

It was a juvenile oarfish (Regalecus russellii). Not only is the species hardly ever seen, but until now no footage of the fish anywhere on the Great Barrier Reef – or along the whole East Coast of Australia – has ever been recorded.

“Luckily, I had my camera and started to film straightaway,” says Tahn.

“At that moment I felt like the ocean had delivered a secret treasure to us.”

The “once-in-a-lifetime encounter”, as Tahn describes it, took place earlier this month on Opal Reef – off the coast of Queensland between Port Douglas and Cape Tribulation, during a Wavelength Reef Cruises’ Outer Great Barrier Reef tour. 

The oarfish can grow to a massive 8m in length and are believed to be the world’s longest bony fish. The juvenile captured in this video measures approximately 35–40cm long.

Dr Tyson R Roberts, the world’s leading oarfish expert (and former Research Associate of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), confirms “this is the first record of this species on the Great Barrier Reef and on the eastern seaboard of Australia.”

“There have been other oarfish recorded in southeastern Australia, but they are the Regalecus glesne species, which lives in cold water and has two dorsal fin crests above the head, differing from the individual spotted at Opal Reef. 

“The only other Australian record of Regalecus russelli was at Port Hedland in Western Australia.”

Anyone who comes across what they believe could be an oarfish on the Great Barrier Reef is encouraged to log the sighting with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Eye on the Reef App.