Sunday, 3 June 2012

King of Herrings


It's the longest fish in the world! All hail the King! For he is shiny!

The King of Herrings is a deep sea fish that lives in much of the world's oceans at depths between 300 and 1,000 metres (984 to 3,280 ft).

It's absolutely HUGE! But also very svelte. 11 metres (36 ft) is a good length for this fish, but one record breaker reached some 17 metres (56 ft)! This is almost twice the length of your average Whale Shark, the world's all round biggest fish. It's also longer than the longest Whale Shark ever verified but shorter than some of the Whale Shark stories that go around, be they true, exaggerated or simply false.

A bunch of Navy SEALS with a fish so big it even dwarfs their muscles.
I don't have space for the fish, but those muscles would really help with the shopping. 

However, the King of Herrings appears purely devoted to length. They are extremely slim and trim, such that they reach a weight of just 300 kg (660 lb). Compare this to your average Whale Shark's 9,000 kg (20,000 lb), 30 times heavier, and you can see why 'biggest' goes to the shark.

I'm sure the King of Herrings is completely fine with that. It doesn't do for a king to be too heavy (usually). How would the horses cope? Or the guy who has to make the suit of armour?

Thing is, the King of Herrings isn't a herring at all. Nor are they closely related. They have almost nothing to do with their subjects whatsoever... They really are a king!

Image: Wikipedia
They certainly have a rather fetching red crown. It's part of the dorsal fin, which is extremely long atop the head before it settles down and continues all the way to the tail. It remains a lovely red throughout, as do the tiny pectoral fins and the long, slender, oar-shaped pelvic fins. It's these that account for their other name, the Giant Oarfish.

One account of how they became the King of Herrings has it that fishermen saw one thrashing around with herrings and thought he was their leader.

Perhaps this was back when royalty led troops into battle rather than mainly being the figurehead of the tourist industry.

Whatever the case may be, it is true that the King of Herrings can sometimes be seen at the ocean's surface or washed up on beaches.

These are not good times for the King. It seems to happen only when they're sick or injured. Dying, basically.


Fish don't blink. I'm accustomed to that. But something about Oarfish eyes makes me think they really should blink! It's creepy.

Even then, a 17 metre corpse is surely something to remember. And misunderstand. No doubt then that the King of Herrings is surely at the root of many a tale of sea serpents and monsters. It's completely undue, though; the King of Herrings doesn't even have teeth!

It would be a long time before we were afforded a peek behind the scenes and discovered something of the King's day to day life. Unfortunately there was little in the way of wedding dresses, interesting hats or lavish home decor, so it didn't make Hello Magazine.


The King of Herrings feeds on zooplankton, small fish and squid. When feeding, it positions itself such that the head is straight up and the tail is straight down. In other words, your aquarium would need to be 17 metres (56 ft) deep. With its scaleless, silvery body it looks like a gigantic, underwater icicle. This posture allows it to pick out the shadows cast by prey in the surrounding gloom.

At this time it swims by undulating that long dorsal fin of theirs, while it has been suggested that those long pelvic fins could be used to taste.

I don't know if it always swims like that. Maybe it can undulate its whole body when it wants to cover distance, a bit like an eel. Perhaps it stops when it sniffs out enough food to be worth the trouble. Then it could assume the icicle position and pick out morsels at leisure.

Juvenile Giant Oarfish.
Prince of Herrings, perhaps.
Or not.

We do know that they lay eggs that float at the surface - we've even captured some of their larvae and young - but when it comes to the basics of their life... we're at a loss.

It's so frustrating! Especially since sightings aren't ridiculously rare and are always deeply impressive.

The problem is that we've only seen a healthy adult in its natural habitat once or twice. For such a magnificent creature, this is horrible!

All in all, at least there's one member of the royal family I find interesting!

7 comments:

shewalkssoftly.com said...

Not to be crass, but do regular herring have to keep telling their girlfriends "Forget that King of Herrings! I told you size doesn't matter!"

TexWisGirl said...

creepy but fascinating royalty! i was totally distracted by the herd of navy seals, however. :)

Comment1 said...

@shewalkssoftly.com: Hahaha! I sure hope not. When the size difference is THAT much...

PS - I can't believe you said that!

@TexWisGirl: "Herd of navy seals", I don't know why that sounds so right! I'm glad I could give you a few contours to look at!

Crunchy said...

I agree, these guys are way more interesting than the British royal family, and they're a lot more useful, too.

For instance, I'm sure you could cut down an entire forest with one. Ni!

Comment1 said...

Yeh! Looks like one King of Herrings could make a guillotine big enough to take out the lot of them in one fell swoop!

I THINK I'm allowed to say stuff like that now...

Chloƫ Langley said...

These kings are incredible! I would never have thought that the world's longest fish looked like this (and that they were vertical too).

Comment1 said...

Yeh, I would imagine the longest fish to be a lot more bulky and whale-like. Or possibly some kind of crazy eel. This fellow is weird in a totally unexpected way!

The vertical thing is just mad!

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