The oarfish, the longest bony fish species which can grow to more than 50 feet, is rarely seen - dead or alive - and is believed to be the origin of sea serpent legends. (Agencies)
Jasmine Santana, 26, of the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) was snorkeling with colleagues in Toyon Bay, southern California last week when she spotted something shimmering in the water.
Santana told a newspaper that she got nervous, and her heart started beating faster as she realized it was an oarfish because she had seen a rare video of a smaller one.
Santana at first tried to lift the fish by its head, but found it too heavy. She then grabbed it by the tail, propelling herself to the surface, where she found staff from the institute eager to help.
"About 15 more of the staff got down to lug it out and bring it on shore. I've been here for a little over 10 years, and I've not seen one at all," said Jeff Chace, a CIMI programme director.
While the fish was dead, it was nearly completely intact and appeared to have died from natural causes.
Oarfish are thought to dive more than 3,000 feet down into the darker depths of the ocean, so their behavior remains largely unobserved and unstudied.
"It is believed that oarfish is what the (sea serpent) stories were based off because of its long tapered body," Santana said.
However, far from the ferocious monsters of legend, the oarfish has a physiology that suggests it is relatively harmless, Santana said.
The oarfish is currently on ice, but Chace wants to bury it on the beach in the hope that other animals will eat away its remaining tissue so that CIMI can display its skeleton.
The oarfish, the longest bony fish species which can grow to more than 50 feet, is rarely seen - dead or alive - and is believed to be the origin of sea serpent legends.