Philippe Cousteau Debunks Sea Serpent Legends, With a Real-Life Monster

Before there were Facebook hoaxes making you look dumb online, there was the giant oarfish. These bizarre-looking creatures which can grow up to 56 feet long are probably what sailors actually saw once upon a time, promptly spinning them into tall tales of sea serpents.

Oarfish mostly hang out in the abyss of the ocean — we’re talking 3,000 feet deep. But occasionally they venture to shallower waters and wash up on shore. This week’s episode of the Aquatic World with Philippe Cousteau finds Cousteau, his wife Ashlan, and their submarine’s crew confronting the creature in its own territory.

Though the giant oarfish seems threatening on the basis of size alone, the only things it preys on are plankton and krill. It doesn’t even have teeth. Instead, it filters the ocean with gill rakers that catch its tiny food. (Despite the big difference in real vs. perceived danger from the giant oarfish, it makes more sense to us that giant oarfish were the original sea serpents than that manatees were the original mermaids.)

“Rather than swim in schools, the giant oarfish chooses a solitary life, circumnavigating the planet in an endless search for food,” Cousteau muses, gazing out the porthole of the submarine. “I like to think it’s on a grand adventure, kind of like all of us.”