The King of Herrings


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Swedes tend to be fond of herring prepared in just about any way imaginable: Mustard herring, onion herring, dill herring, herring in wine sauce, herring with beets and blackcurrant herring, you name it. They even love  surströmming, that canned fermented Baltic herring whose peculiar aroma has been likened by one cuisine web site to, well, something that usually isn’t brought up in polite conversation. So you can imagine that when a Swedish fisherman recently happened upon a rare, 11-foot-long giant oarfish–Regalecus glesne, which Fishbase.org calls the “King of Herrings”—the jokes were inevitable.

“It certainly wouldn’t fit on a piece of toast and would fill a thousand jars if marinated,” the UK tabloid tabloid the Daily Mail commented, wryly. We could cite others, but you get the idea.

According to an article on the Swedish English-language news website The Local, the giant specimen was discovered floating offshore by Kurt Ove Eriksson, a 73-year-old fisherman from Bohuslän in western Sweden.

“Down by the water there was something large, floating. At first we thought that is was a large piece of plastic, but then we saw an eye. I went down to check and saw that it was a very strange looking fish,” Eriksson told another Swedish publication.

But the plus-sized herring, known as Sillkungar in Eriksson’s native tongue, is more than a curiosity. It’s the world’s biggest bony fish species, a deep-sea predator that typically spends its life at a depth of 3,000 feet and seldom comes anywhere near the surface except when it’s a carcass, and thus sightings by humans are incredibly rare. As The Local noted, the last time one was discovered off the Swedish coast was in 1879.

The dead fish was quickly hustled off to a Swedish scientific institution, the House of the Sea, for further study by scientists, even though by giant oarfish standards, the 11-foot specimen was relatively unimpressive in size. According to Fishbase.org, the species can grow to a maximum length of 36 feet and almost 600 pounds.

Digital Journal notes that the giant oarfish, which lives in deep waters around the globe, may possibly have been the inspiration for some of the serpent-like sea monsters that inhabit ancient legends and seafarers’ nightmares.

The dead fish, which was frozen at the museum, had a deep cut through its body and was missing its back fin, the museum said. Officials were contemplating adding the specimen to an exhibit on sea monsters scheduled for later this year.