Monday, February 4, 2019

Fish Story

Forbes Magazine was one of many publications over the weekend to share the story (here, also the source of the image below) of multiple sightings of a rare fish in Japan.  As the article states, “the giant oarfish, a deep-water creature living at depths (of) 3,300 feet, is the longest bony fish in the world…. It's presumed to be responsible for some sea serpent sightings by European sailors.”  The National Geographic says they can grow to 56 feet (17 meters) in length and can weigh up to 600 pounds (270 kilograms).  A fascinating video of the rarely-seen fish is here.

So what does this story have to do with the subject of this blog on planning for natural hazard mitigation?  Well, as the article continues, “in Japan, (oarfish) are believed to be sent by the dragon-king of the sea to warn people along the coast of an impending earthquake or tsunami. Earlier this week, a 10.5-feet specimen washed up on the shore of Toyama Bay on the Sea of Japan, while a 13-feet specimen was caught in a fishing net off the nearby port of Imizu, bringing the total oarfish found this season to seven.”

The oarfish, the article explains, is just one of many folk tales involving mythical animals as harbingers of (and sometimes as the cause of) natural disasters—particularly earthquakes and tsunami.  A Japan Times article explains a possible (though not proven) causal link as:

An old saying has it that the fish comes to the beach as an omen of a big earthquake. Kiyoshi Wadatsumi, a specialist in ecological seismology and director of the nonprofit organization e-PISCO that studies signs of earthquakes, said, “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.”  But he said the deep-sea fish found in nets or on beaches did not seem to be directly connected with earthquakes.

I wrote a piece earlier (here) about the predictive nature of folklore and how those that went before us have tried to help warn us of potential danger.  It’s easy to dismiss these tales as the simplistic ways our predecessors have tried to explain the natural world around them.  And I’m not suggesting the downright panic the oarfish sightings have generated in some is justified.  But, as I pointed out in the earlier piece, it’s worth letting even something as odd as a strange fish appearing in a fisherman’s net be the impetus to encourage better planning and preparation for a disaster we know is inevitable in the region at some point in the future.  

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