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2 rare oarfish found alive by Japanese fishermen

Fish long regarded as omens of natural disasters

(CNN) - Fishermen were stunned to discover two deep-sea fish believed to be ancient harbingers of earthquakes and tsunamis alive in nets in the Japanese island of Okinawa.

The two oarfish, about 3.6 meters (12 feet) and 4 meters (13 feet) long, were found off the island's southwest Toya port on January 28.

One of the oarfish tore in half after being loaded onto a ship and was partially eaten by one of the fishermen, the Japan Times reported. The other died after arriving on land.

"The two oarfish were swimming vigorously in the nets," said Satomi Higa of the Yomitan's fisheries cooperative association. "They looked mysterious and beautiful."

A number of dead oarfish have washed up in Japan and Peru this year, sparking fear that another earthquake or tsunami may be on the horizon.

Traditionally known as "Ryugu no tsukai" in Japanese, or the "Messenger from the Sea God's Palace," legend has it that they beach themselves on shores ahead of underwater earthquakes.

The myth gained some traction after the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which killed more than 20,000 people. At least a dozen oarfish had washed up onto Japan's coastline in the year prior to the disaster, according to Kyodo News.

But scientists dispute such claims.

Uozu Aquarium keeper Kazusa Saiba told CNN last month that global warming or subtle changes in the Earth's crust could "cause the current to stir and push creatures at the bottom to the surface."


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