WHEN a gigantic sunfish washed up in South Australia, beachgoers who stumbled on the monster were stunned to find it wasn’t a “piece of shipwreck debris”.
The rare sunfish discovered near the Murray River mouth was already dead, and appeared to be so unnaturally huge that it was initially thought to be “fake”, said one woman.
Linette Grzelak posted a photo of the aquatic beast on Facebook with the comment: “A sunfish found by my partner along the Coorong [National Park] a couple [of] nights ago. I thought it was fake lol.”
She told Guardian Australia: “My partner was out with his work crew and he thought it was a piece of shipwreck at first.”
Ralph Foster, fish collection manager at the South Australian Museum, confirmed it was an ocean sunfish, the Mola mola species, and a rare find for the location.
He said that because it had sand stuck in its scales, it looked as if it had been made from “paper mache”.
National Parks South Australia said: “These huge beauties are the world’s largest bony fish and can weigh more than a car."
It added that, “there’s no way of knowing why this specimen died. It seems healthy-looking and without any obvious injuries.
“Although sunfish spend much of their time well offshore in the ocean, and can dive to great depths in search of food, it’s not uncommon for them to come close to shore if there are good numbers of jellyfish to feed on.
“Last year two or three stayed around the Victor Harbor Bluff and Waitpinga Cliffs for about a week, apparently feeding on Jimble Jellyfish that were in large numbers, and another was filmed swimming around a jetty on Kangaroo Island in late January this year.
“They can swim great distances and seem to be always on the move.”
When Grzelak initially posted the image on Facebook, some couldn’t believe it was an actual fish, with one woman suggesting it was a “sand sculpture” while another said it “looks like carved wood”.
She was ribbed by some people, with one woman posting: “I hope you kissed it and threw it back into the ocean…hehe.”
And one wit suggested it was a “speed hump for offshore yachts.”
Another curious person delved into how often the species had been reported in the area in the past.
He discovered that such sunfish "seem to wash up dead every 30 years on the South Australia coast. So I would go with [the fish] died of old age. Not caught and not hit by a boat.”
Earlier this month a Hoodwinker sunfish – also rare – was found dead on a California Beach, thousands of miles from its Southern Hemisphere home, baffling experts.
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