SAN DIEGO - With two oarfish washing ashore in Southern California last week, scientists are wondering why and if an urban legend that they could be predictors of the next big earthquake is true.
"Oarfish are a very exotic, strange, rare fish so when they do appear, they lead to speculation," geologist Pat Abbott told 10News.
An oarfish washed ashore in Oceanside on Friday, and a few days earlier, one turned up off Catalina.
The oarfish, the likely source of sea serpent myths throughout the ages, is a subject of superstition in Japan.
According to traditional Japanese lore, the oarfish surface and beach themselves to send a sign of an impending earthquake.
"I don't discredit or disrespect the Japanese theory at all," said Abbott. "The science and study just isn't there. There's a big difference between suggesting something like that and proving it. What did an animal sense that maybe we didn't that told them about a coming event?"
The UK's Telegraph newspaper reported that after the big earthquakes in March of 2010 in Haiti and Taiwan that 10 oarfish washed up in Japan. The problem is the big earthquake in Japan did not happen until exactly a year later in March of 2011.
However, there is no scientific proof or theories that bottom-dwelling fish may be susceptible to movement in seismic fault lines.
"Reports on other animals sensing earthquakes before they happened have been done, that elephants sensed something and went uphill in Indonesia and India and other countries before a quake, you think really? And that is why studying their behavior needs to be done," said Abbott.
The appearance of the fish off Catalina and Oceanside has scientists wondering why and trying to figure it out. For now, there are more questions than answers.