Amongst the speculations about the strange fish found on Noordhoek beach recently is that it might be a ribbonfish (of the family Trachipteridae), an oarfish (Family Regalicidae), or a unicorn crestfish or unicornfish (Eumecichthys fiski of the family Lophotidae).


Strange fish on Noordhoek Beach. Photo by Ingrid Swann. Thoughts are that it might be an oar or a ribbon fish.

According to Wikipedia, the unicornfish is a very rare species of which very little is known. It is thought to be found worldwide at a depth of about 1 000m. It was first discovered off shore of Kalk Bay! It has also been seen in the Sea of Japan and off the coasts of southwest Florida, Mexico, Hawaii and India.


Unicorn fish. Image from GoogleThis fish reaches up to 1.5m in length. It gets its name from the hornlike protuberance projecting forward from its eyes, with a pennant of about 3-5 dorsal rays. It has an ink tube derived from a primitive gut from which it expels a black fluid to defend itself from predators.



Oarfish are very long, very large deep ocean fish that are found in temperate and tropical oceans but are seldom seen. It is only when sick or dying that they tend to hover at the surface of the ocean.


Oarfish from Google ImagesAccording to Wikipedia, its common name is thought to be derived from the shape of its body or to the “discredited belief” that they row through the water with their pelvic fins. They are not often caught alive and because their flesh is jelly like, they would not make a great meal if they were!


The dorsal fin runs the entire length of its body, the pectoral fins are small and low, it has no anal fin and the tail fin is either small or non-existent. It has no scales. The largest member of the family is the Giant Oarfish , also known as the ‘king of herrings’ which has reached a record size of 11m and weighed 272kg.


Since they are rarely seen alive little is known of their behaviour and ecology. They feed mainly on plankton, jellyfish, squid and other small fish.


Ribbonfish. Image from Google ImagesLike the other fish mentioned above, ribbonfish are seldom seen alive and are deep water fish. They reach lengths of between 1.5m and 3.5m but longer specimens have been found.


The ribbonfish has a high dorsal fin running along the whole length of the back; an anal fin is absent, and may or may not have a tail fin.


In Japan, the appearance of oarfish is thought to portend earthquakes. A species of ribbonfish, Trachipterus ishikawae, is commonly called the earthquake fish in Taiwan as sightings of them have been reported after earthquakes, the most recent being in 2006, 2007 and 2010.  However, not all sighting correspond to seismic disturbances.


Information gleaned from the internet re sighting of the above fish in South African waters:

Family: Lophotidae — Crestfishes

  • Unicorn crestfish Eumecichthys fiski (Günther, 1890) (1 specimen, Kalk Bay in False Bay)[1]
  • Crestfish Lophotus lacepede Giorna, 1809 (Cape to Plettenberg Bay, rare but widely distributed in all oceans)[1]

Family: Regalecidae — Oarfishes

  • Streamer fish Agrostichthys parkeri Giorna, 1809 (Southeast Atlantic, New Zealand and Tasmania)[1]
  • Oarfish Regalescus glesne Ascanius, 1772 (worldwide distribution)[1]


Family: Trachipteridae — Ribbonfishes

  • Polka-dot ribbonfish Desmodema polysticum (Ogilby, 1897) (1 juvenile washed ashore at Xora river and 1 found at Simon’s Town, False Bay)[1]
  • Blacktail ribbonfish Trachipterus jacksonensis (Ramsay, 1881) (East London and off Cape Town)[1]
  • Peregrine ribbonfish Trachipterus trachypterus (Gmelin, 1789) (off Table Bay)[1]
  • Scalloped ribbonfish Zu cristatus (prejuveniles collected at Luderitz, Algoa bay and Durban)[1]
  • Taper tail ribbonfish Zu elongatus (Heemstra and Kannemeyer, 1984) (4 specimens trawled off the western Cape coast)[1]


“A huge oarfish was caught on camera in the Gulf of Mexico, giving scientists a rare glimpse of the bizarre fish in its native deep sea habitat. Researcher Mark Benfield describes the fish, a likely inspiration for the sea serpent myth.”


Viv vd Heyden

For more images of the Noordhoek fish and comments about it see