Two fishermen were out fishing for cockles when they came across a sunfish in a deserted beach.
The huge sunfish was found washed up 15 miles east of the River Murray mouth—a popular fishing and holiday destination in South Australia—in March 2019. Linette Grzelak, who posted a picture of the fish on social media after her partner returned home, wrote, “A sunfish found by my partner along the Coorong a couple [of] nights ago. I thought it was fake.”
South Australian Museum fish collection manager Ralph Foster said this specimen, which was already dead, was a little on the small side, measuring an estimate of 1.8 meters (approx. 5.9 feet) in length.
“They can get a lot bigger … it’s probably an average-sized one, they can get nearly twice as big as that,” he told ABC News, adding it was unusual to see them in the area.
“I’ve actually had a good look at it, we get three species here and this is actually the rarest one in South Australian waters,” he said. “It’s the oceanic sunfish, which in other parts of the world is common but here it’s more unusual, it’s the one known as Mola mola.”
According to Foster, the sunfish received its name for its characteristic basking in the sun. Apparently, they can also swim to the depth of the ocean.
“In recent work people have been putting satellite tags and data loggers on them and found they will come to the surface and lay on their side on the surface, hence the name the sunfish,” he further added.
The oceanic sunfish is the world’s largest bony fish and can often be confused with a shark due to its fin.
Foster admits that currently, they know only very little about these species; however, over the last few years, technology has made it possible to learn more about these species.
“We get to actually look at them so infrequently, so we never know quite which one we’ve got,” he said. “Which is why these photographs online are so useful, because we get to actually look at it and decide which one it is.”
Often weighing in at more than the average car weight, the largest sunfish caught weighed 5,000 pounds (approx. 2,268 kg). The sunfish are found in tropical and temperate oceans around the world and are usually seen basking in the sun.
These majestic creatures are known to sink yachts. “We get a lot of them hit by boats and some of them are so large they actually sink yachts,” said Foster.
It is believed a collision between a sunfish and the 52-foot racing yacht called Hollywood Boulevard, placed ninth in the 2018 Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race, almost sank the yacht as it was returning to New South Wales, Australia. Amid huge swells and freezing waters, the six-man crew was winched by helicopter from their sinking vessel in a difficult operation. The yacht was eventually salvaged and has been rebuilt.
Photo courtesy of Linette Grzelak