There is a final contender for the title ‘king of the fishes’ that deserves consideration. It too is sometimes called ‘king of the herrings’, though it is not entirely clear why. However, given our culture’s preferences in what we consider kingly, this snake-like fish probably has the best qualifications. After all, it is not just an oarfish, but the giant oarfish. Because, you know, it is big.

Indeed, the giant oarfish (Regalecus gles) is the biggest bony fish alive, as specimens of up to 11m in length have been recorded. This does not make it the biggest of all fishes – that honour befalls the much more bulky whale shark, which reaches 12m or more (sharks are not bony fishes – their skeletons are made of cartilage). Unfortunately, the slow, filter-feeding whale shark is not intimidating enough, and if it were put to the vote it would probably lose to its more properly carnivorous cousin, the great white shark. Similarly, the king of the dinosaurs is the T-rex, even though there were other species of dinosaur over twice its size.

The giant oarfish. Source: David Starr Jordan 1907.
The giant oarfish. Source: David Starr Jordan 1907.

The giant oarfish is not a particularly vicious creature, but it has an excellent quality to complement its considerable size. It is mysterious. Very mysterious. Being a rather shy deep-sea fish, little is known about its habits. Most sightings concern beached individuals, which are either already dead or die soon after stranding. However, some of them can be seen swimming just under the water surface. Why they do this is unknown, but this makes the giant oarfish an excellent candidate for having inspired stories of giant sea serpents. It is unfortunate that there are no oarfish in Loch Ness. As far as I know at least.


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