Monstrous looking oarfish are rarely seen, because they like to swim and slither 3,000 feet under water. However, Jasmine Santana, a science instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) — located on Catalina Island, off the coast of Los Angeles, California — discovered an 18-foot oarfish while snorkeling Sunday afternoon.
“I was just snorkeling, and I’ve never seen anything so big in the water,” says the 26-year-old. “I was a little scared and my heart was racing, but I was excited too.”
Santana, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico, says she recognized the creature — which was dead on the ocean floor — to be an oarfish, because one of her colleagues had shown her pictures of them.
“Most oarfish which have been found have been in the Pacific, and from all the accounts I’ve read, there have only been four or five found before — one in the 1800’s,” she says. “I didn’t have a camera with me, and I felt no one would believe me, so I decided to bring it to shore.”
She managed dragging it by its narrow tail on her own, for about 75 feet, before others joined in to help her.
“It was so big,” says Santana, still in disbelief, about her largest catch yet. “I think the biggest thing I caught before was a sheep crab.”
The young scientist says she loves her job, which she admits to finding online while she was living in New York briefly after studying marine ecology at the University of Michigan.
“I teach hiking, snorkeling, kayaking and different types of labs to students K through 12,” she says.
“I really, really wish there were more Latinos studying marine biology. I’m the only Latina here out of a staff of 26.”
Santana says it was a high school class she took in zoology which opened her eyes to the field for the first time.
“My teacher showed us a video of a sea anemone, and I just thought of it as a plant, but then she taught us it was an animal,” she says. “Ever since, I became fascinated by ocean animals and what they are able to do…One thing that’s really important is to get Latinos not to be afraid of the ocean, and not just go to the beach, but see what’s in it.”
While graduate school is swimming in her mind, Santana says she wants to keep working on Catalina Island — which is also her current home.
“It feels amazing — I’m still in shock,” says Santana about her 18-ft long capture, which will be left on the sand for creatures to eat, and then the skeleton will be put on display at CIMI. “I want to make more discoveries in marine biology and help people too — I just don’t know in what way yet.”