Recent sightings of a rare, serpent-like sea creature — which in Japanese lore, is thought to be a harbinger of natural disasters — have sent Japan’s social media into a frenzy.
“This is no doubt evidence of a precursor to an earthquake,” wrote one Twitter user following two separate discoveries of “oarfish” off the north-coast prefecture of Toyama earlier this week.
“And if it is in the Nankai Trough, it might be a huge quake,” they said, according to the South China Morning Post.
Photos posted on Instagram showed one of the two deep-sea dwellers — which reportedly measured 10.5 and 13 feet, respectively. One was found on the shore of Toyama Bay and the other got caught in a fishing net near the port of Imizu.
According to Japanese legend, the fish will purposely rise to the surface and beach themselves whenever they believe trouble’s on the way. Residents have reported their presence before the arrivals of tsunamis and earthquakes in the past — including the 2011 Fukushima quake. However, experts have said not to worry.
“The link to reports of seismic activity goes back many, many years, but there is no scientific evidence of a connection so I don’t think people need to worry,” explained Hiroyuki Motomura, a professor of ichthyology at Kagoshima University who spoke to the Morning Post.
“I believe these fish tend to rise to the surface when their physical condition is poor, rising on water currents, which is why they are so often dead when they are found,” he said.
Still, the sightings weren’t sitting so well with social media users this week.
“What is going on under Toyama Bay?” tweeted one concerned Japanese resident.
“Is something happening deep in the sea?” another asked.
Many on Japan’s 5-Channel chat site were reportedly referring to the oarfish — which translates to “Messenger from the Sea God’s Palace” — as a “warning” sign.
“There is no scientific evidence at all for the theory that oarfish appear around big quakes. But we cannot 100 percent deny the possibility,” said Uozu Aquarium keeper Kazusa Saiba, speaking to CNN on Friday. “It could be that global warming might have an impact on the appearance of oarfish or a reason we’re just not aware of.”
This story was originally published by the New York Post.