Scientists capture footage of giant deep-sea fish off Gulf of Mexico in first of its kind HD video

The oarfish, or Regalecus glesne, lives so deep under the ocean that it is usually only seen when it’s washed ashore or fatally injured.

The oarfish is the longest bony fish in the sea, believed to be able to reach 50 feet or more in length.

Mark Benfield, Louisiana State University Remarkably captured by HD cameras, an oarfish is seen swimming off the Gulf of Mexico in August, 2011.

Never before seen video footage of an elusive 8-foot long deep-sea oarfish, alive and in its natural habitat in the Gulf of Mexico, has been released by scientists who are calling it the first of its kind.

The giant bony fish whose mystery dates to tales of sea monsters and mermaids was remarkably filmed in high definition by a remotely operated vehicle in 2011 before the video’s release this week.

The footage is believed to be a first of its kind when it comes to clarity and contact with an oarfish, or Regalecus glesne, with the creature typically seen washed ashore dead or fatally injured.

The oarfish is the longest bony fish in the sea, believed to be able to reach 50 feet or more in length, while this one was estimated to be around 8 feet.

The oarfish is the longest bony fish in the sea, believed to be able to reach 50 feet or more in length, while this one was estimated to be around 8 feet.   Mark Benfield, Louisiana State University

Mark C. Benfield, a professor of oceanography at Louisiana State University, was one of 14 to 16 scientists floating above the ROV that August when one of them yelled out for their camera to stop.

There, floating vertically, its head looking up toward the surface, was the ghostly pale creature, its dorsal fin rippling up and down its back while appearing to stare straight back at them.

“It was just so exciting to be in that control room, and we were beaming that footage onto a big screen,” Benfield told The News. “People could just not believe the clarity.”

It was only after about 10 minutes that the fish finally fled the ROV's sight after showing possible mutual curiosity.

It was only after about 10 minutes that the fish finally fled the ROV’s sight after showing possible mutual curiosity.   Mark Benfield, Lousiana State University

As Benfield’s following report in the Journal of Fish Biology describes, the fish showed no initial fright of the ROV but hints of curiosity instead.

“The individual responded to the ROV by descending tail-first while maintaining visual contact with the ROV by orienting its head towards the vehicle,” the report published in April reads.

After approximately 10 minutes’ time, the fish finally abruptly fled the ROV. The scientists observed “that although R. glesne is fully capable of attempting a rapid escape from a potential threat, rapid escape was not the initial response.”

The fish showed no initial fright of the ROV but hints of curiosity instead.

The fish showed no initial fright of the ROV but hints of curiosity instead.   Mark Benfield, Lousiana State University

The remarkable discovery was the fifth oarfish filmed in the Gulf by the scientists between 2008 and 2011 but as Benfield points out, it’s the most clear they’ve ever seen one while still alive.

It was in fact so clear they were able to spot a parasite on one of its fins — a first documentation in the scientific community.

In the fall of 2012 this 15-foot oarfish was caught on camera in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where it washed on shore before it, like many before, died.

In the fall of 2012 this 15-foot oarfish was caught on camera in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where it washed on shore before it, like many before, died.   Jared Clingo via YouTube

But just as the discovery wasn’t the first, it also wasn’t the biggest by the scientists, Benfield reveals.

Among their previous discoveries was an oarfish measuring 20-feet in size. At the fish’s greatest size — as the longest bony fish in the sea — they’re believed to be able to reach 50 feet or more in length.

Without further exploration, Benfield stresses the greatest discoveries as yet to be found.

“Our goal is to document what’s out there,” Benfield said. “Having access to these ROVs is a real benefit to the scientific community.”

The ROV lent to the scientists was just one of hundreds that are currently working in partnership with offshore oil drillers in the Gulf.

In contrast, Benfield said there are only about a dozen research ROVs capable of diving more than 1,000 yards. The research partnership is therefore crucial toward the discovery of what may be out there, he said.