"Our findings say that these are actually majorly parasitized fish," UC Santa Barbara professor Armand Kuris said in a statement. "In this little piece of intestine that we had, we found quite a few of these rather large larval tapeworms. One of them was about 15 centimeters (6 inches) long."
“We only had a small piece of intestine to study that was sent over from Catalina, which is nobody’s fault, because who even knows the body parts of an oarfish?” Kuris told the OC Register. “But given how big the fish is, it probably had dozens if not hundreds of parasites in it.”
Kuris and his team found three kinds of parasites inside a 2-inch section of the oarfish's intestine -- tiny creatures that could help researchers learn more about what the oarfish ate and how it lived.
For example, larval tapeworms inside the oarfish are usually found in the bodies of large sharks, which hints at the oarfish's enemies.
“Those worms won’t mature until something eats the oarfish, and given the size of an oarfish, you’re probably talking about deep sea sharks,” Kuris said.
The mysterious creature, discovered off the coast of Catalina Island, is the largest oarfish specimen to have washed ashore in nearly 20 years. Oarfish are the world's largest bony fish, though they prefer the deep sea and are rarely seen alive.
Another oarfish measuring nearly 14 feet was discovered less than a week leader in Oceanside.
Milton Love, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara, told the Los Angeles Times that the two oarfish deaths were likely related.
Oarfish aren't particularly adept swimmers and scientists believe that a strong current could have swept the two creatures from the calmer deep sea to more turbulent waters closer to shore.