The pristine waters off Kona, Hawaii, teem with big game and spawn many exciting fish tales. But this tale is unlike any other, a mystery involving a giant slender fish discovered on the surface minus its head and tail, making it nearly impossible to identify.
The case may never be solved because scientists have little to go on besides the photos accompanying this post, and because the fishermen filleted the carcass and tossed it overboard.
(Note: This post also appears on the GrindTv.com Outdoor blog.)
The only thing that appears certain is that the headless mystery fish belongs to a species that resides at great depth, and is rarely encountered by humans.
The best guess, and some might have already ventured this theory, is that this was an oarfish. Oarfish are long and slender prehistoric-looking fish believed to have spawned tales of sea serpents among ancient mariners.
That's what Capt. Dale Leverone of the Sea Strike, which stumbled upon the 7-foot-long ribbon-like fish, initially believed.
That's also what Jon Schwartz supposed. Schwartz, a marine photographer and friends of the Leverone family, spent an entire day last week trying to solve this mystery, and blogged about his detective work. His title: "Giant Headless Mystery Fish Baffles Fishermen and Scientists."
But oarfish boast crimson-colored mane-like dorsal fins, tall and prominent near their heads, and the headless fish did not have a detectable dorsal fin. "I thought it was a car bumper, but then I remembered they don't float," first mate Jack Leverone told Schwartz.
Schwartz contacted Jim Rizzuto, a veteran fishing writer in Hawaii, and Rizzuto suggested it could be a Hawaiian ridge scabbardfish, which are long and ribbon-like, and extremely rare. But scabbardfish do not get nearly this long, so it was crossed off the list.
Schwartz plunged into Wikipedia and found a species called beltfish, which are long and thin, and a photo of a bunch of them at a fish market in Japan. Not a probable match.
Schwartz also contacted two NOAA marine biologists, who could not provide a positive ID.
I decided to probe on my own and contacted Perry Hampton, vice president of animal husbandry at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, Calif.
Hampton said the photographs "do not show enough detail to make a determination" but added: "Despite the apparent lack of red dorsal fin it is hard to come up with any other species other than an oarfish," based on the size of the specimen.
"The most prominent part of an oarfish's dorsal fin are the first few spines near the head," he added. "It is possible that these things were lost along with the head. The rest of the dorsal fin runs the length of the body but usually lays flat in a recessed channel along the fish's back unless it is alarmed."
So the headless mystery fish could very well have been an oarfish, but the world may never know for sure. Just as it will never know what kind of shark or other predator chomped off its head and tail, leaving the rest for the Leverones.
They had planned to eat the headless mystery fish, but when they cooked it the flesh turned gelatinous, so they passed.
--Photos show Dale Leverone (top) and son Jack posing with mysterious headless fish
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