A Giant Sunfish So Big Fishermen Thought It Was A Shipwreck Washed Up On An Australian Beach


A Mola mola - or ocean sunfish - alive and well. Serg Zastavkin/Shutterstock

There is many a strange beastie that can be found in the ocean. Not least the worm goby, which could legitimately pass as the Chestburster monster's aquatic twin. But possibly one of the strangest is the shy and elusive giant sunfish (or Mola mola) – the gentle giant of the animal kingdom. 

One such specimen found itself washed up at the mouth of the Murray River in Coorong National Park, 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of Adelaide, South Australia, where it was discovered by a crew of local fishermen driving along the sand. Linette Grzelak, whose partner Steven Jones was one of the fishermen involved, posted pictures of the sunfish on Facebook. 


"My partner was out with his work crew and he thought it was a piece of shipwreck at first," Linette Grzelak told Guardian Australia

"I didn't think it was real until I Googled sunfish," she told BBC News, adding that Jones said the fish was "extremely heavy" with skin "rough and leathery like a rhinoceros".

Sunfish are the world's largest bony fish and can be found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. However, according to Ralph Foster, the fish collection manager at the South Australian Museum, it is rare to spot ocean sunfish around these parts. 

He says this particular individual was a medium-sized beast, though sunfish have been known to reach lengths of around 3.3 meters (11 feet) – which is almost the same size as a Volkswagon Beetle. They can also be pretty hefty, weighing up to 2,250 kilograms (around 5,000 pounds), heavier than your average rhinoceros.


Size is not the only attribute that sets the ocean sunfish apart. They hold the record for producing more eggs in one sitting (a jaw-dropping 300 million) than any known vertebrate. Still, perhaps their most striking feature is their looks. Quite frankly, they look like a swimming head. This is because, unlike most fish, their back fin doesn't grow. Rather, it folds back into itself, transforming into a rounded rudder (a clavus). Despite their rather freakish-looking appearance, they are not at all harmful to humans. 

This particular specimen is not the first sunfish to grab headlines recently. Only at the beginning of the month, another species of sunfish (Mola tectawas found somewhere unexpected – the Californian shore.


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