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Giant sunfish washed up on the Californian coast surprises researchers

Credit: Coal Oil Point Reserve

A hoodwinker sunfish has recently been found washed up on the Californian coastline.  The discovery is very unexpected as this particular type of species is known for living in the southern hemisphere!

Time taken to identify the fish

According to an article from CNN, the sunfish was found on the Santa Barbara beach by an intern at the University of California.  Jessica Neilsen, a specialist from Coal Oil Point Reserve was alerted and came to observe what she first took for a Mola mola  sunfish. This species is generally recognizable by its lack of tail, enormous head and imposing size. On average the fish measures 1.80 meters long and weighs one ton.

Mola mola fish are found in all the oceans of the globe, which makes the discovery of this fish stranded in California not very extraordinary. However, Thomas Turner a marine biologist from the University of Santa Barbara was intrigued by the photos posted on Facebook, and decided to go himself to observe the animal. After having published photos on the iNaturalist platform, other scientists started to show an interest like Marianne Nyegaard from the University of Murdoch (Australia).

Credits : Coal Oil Point Reserve

New revealing shots

Marianne Nyegaard is a sunfish expert and even identified a new species in 2017.  This was the first new discovery for 130 years. This new species is called Mola tecta or hoodwinker sunfish. The researcher had doubts when identifing the fish, as none of the photos of the specimen clearly showed the clavus.  This replaces the caudal fin and is an identifying feature of the Mola tecta. So as to be certain, Ms Myegaard, asked Thomas Turner to take new shots and samples of the fish.

Quoted in the Santa Barbara University blog, Marianne Nyegaard said that after looking at the new photos, she was able to identity the fish with certainty as a Mola tecta.  This species of fish measures up to 3 meters long and is usually found in the southern hemisphere. The discovery of such a specimen is very surprising!

However many mores questions could be asked.  Researchers have even pulled a specimens collected in 1889 off the coast of the Netherlands out off a drawer which was originally classified as  a Mola mola sunfish.  However after further analysis it has been reclassified as a Mola tecta which suggests that the Californian specimen is not the first.  Researchers remain slightly perplexed but they haven’t discussed global warming.  According to researchers,  Mola tecta habits might not be fully understood or this sunfish might appear in the Northern Hemisphere for no particular reason.

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