Another Surprise From The Deep

Researchers with a giant sunfish at the marina in Horta in the Azores in December. Atlantic Naturalist

We do not tire of the ocean surprises; this one is of an entirely different magnitude:

A sunfish found near the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean weighed as much as an S.U.V. Scientists say it’s a sign that the sea’s largest creatures can live if we let them.

The fish, at more than 6,000 pounds, is about the weight of a Chevrolet Suburban S.U.V. Atlantic Naturalist

It was easy for scientists to have doubts when they were told that the carcass of a colossal fish had been found floating just off the coast of Faial Island in Portugal’s Azores archipelago in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean in December 2021.

People do tend to exaggerate when it comes to the size of fish after all. However, their skepticism lifted the moment they laid eyes on the fish. It was the biggest bony fish they had ever seen. In fact, it might have been the biggest anyone had ever seen.

Weighing just over 6,000 pounds, which is around the weight of a Chevrolet Suburban, the supersize southern sunfish stretches over 10 feet in length. Scientists say the fish, a species of mola, was the heaviest bony fish ever recorded.

Over 90 percent of fish have bony skeletons and thus fall into the category of bony fish. This sets them apart from sharks, rays and some fish that have cartilaginous skeletons. Although no bony fish has ever come close to reaching the size of a whale shark, the largest cartilaginous fish, the size of the sunfish found in the Azores is impressive.

“It’s pretty rare to find big fish these days due to overfishing and habitat degradation,” said Kory Evans, a fish ecologist at Rice University who was not involved in the discovery of the S.U.V.-size sunfish.

The last bony fish recorded anywhere near that size was a female of the same species caught in Japan in 1996 that weighed around 5,070 pounds and measured roughly 8.9 feet across.

The massive southern sunfish found in the Azores is “not an abnormal individual whose extreme size is due to a genetic mutation,” said José Nuno Gomes-Pereira, a marine biologist with Atlantic Naturalist and co-author of a study published earlier this month in Journal of Fish Biology that documented the specimen. “This species can get to this size. We just finally managed to weigh and measure one. There are more of these monsters out there.”

Aside from their size, molas are known for their clumsy swimming style. Unlike most fish, molas use their dorsal and anal fins to propel their huge, hulking bodies through the water, which they do slowly and haphazardly. The open-ocean fish are often seen floating on their sides at the sea’s surface, which scientists think is to warm up or to make it easy for seabirds to make a meal of the parasites on their skin…

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