Although the larger species are considered game fish and are (to a minor extent) fished commercially, oarfish are rarely caught alive; their flesh is not well regarded due to its gelatinous consistency.
The members of the family are known to have a worldwide range. However, specific encounters with live individuals in situ are rare and distribution information is collated from records of oarfishes caught or washed ashore.
In July 2008, scientists captured footage of the rare fish swimming in its natural habitat off the Gulf of Mexico. It is the first ever confirmed sighting of an oarfish at depth, as most specimens are discovered dying at the sea surface or washed ashore. The fish was estimated to be between 5 m and 10 m in length.
Oarfish feed primarily on zooplankton, selectively straining tiny euphausiids, shrimp, and other crustaceans from the water. Small fish, jellyfish, and squid are also taken. Large open-ocean carnivores are all likely predators of oarfish, and include the Oceanic whitetip shark. Oarfish have no visible teeth.
The king of herrings or giant oarfish is neither a true herring, nor a close relative. According to the Great Book of Animals, its name comes from being sighted near shoals of herring, which fishermen thought were being guided by this fish. It is scaleless, ribbon-shaped and silvery with a long, red dorsal fin.
On April 6, 2011, a live specimen (3.5m) was found off the east coast of Taiwan, nearly a month after the devastating tsunami hit Japan in March. Taiwanese fishermen believed that the giant oarfish surfaced to the shallow water because of the earthquake in Japan. They gave the giant oarfish a nickname, "Earthquake Fish"