Did California’s oarfish just predict an earthquake?

Or was it just an eerie coincidence?

Topics: Earthquakes, oarfish, Japan, conspiracy theories,

Did California's oarfish just predict an earthquake?This 18-foot-long oarfish was found in the waters of Toyon Bay on Santa Catalina Island last week. (Credit: Catalina Island Marine Institute)

The mysterious appearance of two rare, giant oarfish off the coast of Southern California sparked rumors that an earthquake was soon to follow. As Salon wrote just three days ago:

rumor circulating online … claims that in Japanese lore, beached oarfish portend earthquakes. Scientists contacted by ABC News could neither confirm nor deny the theory that the oarfish are seismologically attuned and committed suicide in anticipation of a quake, so we’ll have to just wait and see on that front.

It was mostly tongue-in-cheek. But those words are now a bit eerie, seeing as how a 7.3 magnitude earthquake just struck off the coast of Japan.

Naturally, the rumor mill’s back in action:

That last tweet, from Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Calif.), references retired geologist Jim Berkland, who claimed to have a system for using animal behavior to predict earthquakes.

“It’s probably just a coincidence,” Rick Feeney, a zoologist at the U.S. Natural History museum, recently said of the oarfish’s rumored ability to predict earthquakes. But was it? As Live Science reported Tuesday, there’s a long, anecdotal history of animals appearing to sense tremors. And in 2011, the last time a massive earthquake hit Japan, 20 beached oarfish were reportedly discovered shortly beforehand.

No immediate damage was detected on land from today’s earthquake.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email labrams@salon.com.

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