By Noah Sheidlower, Melissa Velasquez and Justin Lear, CNN
To the surprise of researchers and crappie enthusiasts around the world, a sunfish weighing over 4,000 pounds was found entangled in the nets of a tuna fishing boat off Ceuta, a self-sustaining Spanish port city in South Africa. North border of Morocco, October 4.
The mammoth sunfish measured 10.5 feet long and 9.5 feet wide. Enrique Ostale, who heads the marine biology laboratory at the University of Seville in Ceuta, estimated he weighed around 4,400 pounds, based on comparisons with other catches.
âWe tried to weigh it, but we just had a scale of up to a thousand kilograms, and in this case, we couldn’t use it because it was going to break,â he told CNN in Spanish. .
Ostale told CNN that his research team has been working for four years with local fishermen of almadraba, who use nets attached to boats to catch fish like tuna, to study sunfish. Depending on their catch, fishermen and researchers select what interests them while putting other species back to sea. However, in this case, the fishermen alerted Ostale and his team – who were working on an invasive algae study at the time – to come quickly to see the massive catch.
Because the animal was so heavy, the researchers used a crane to lift it after it was isolated in an underwater chamber attached to the boat. They then measured its dimensions and took close-up photos and DNA samples.
âWe had seen it in a book and in scientific papers, and to have it there, to tell you the truth, I was very impressed,â Ostale said. “Above all, we must also imagine the stress that is created in the aspect that we are at sea, we are on a boat, the animal is alive, it must be passed quickly in the open sea so that no one is injured . “
According to Ostale, although there have been recorded moonfishes in other parts of the world of this size, fishermen and other researchers had not seen one so large near his research center. The sunfish had dark gray skin and rounded grooves in its flanks, which led Ostale to believe that it belonged to the species Mola alexandrini.
“I see, on the one hand, the chance to find it and find it alive, to enjoy it and to swim with it,” he said. âOn the other hand, we were also lucky because it was difficult to deal with the cranes, because we have to think that we were on a boat, that we were in the middle of the sea, and an accident can always to arrive.
The “great eccentrics” of the ocean
According to Dr. Tierney Thys, marine biologist and associate researcher at the California Academy of Sciences, the Mola Alexandrini is “truly one of the great eccentrics of the ocean.” Thys told CNN in an email that although his outward appearance may seem bulky, he moves through the water with graceful wing-like blows from his long dorsal and anal fins, as if he is “flying like a bird on the side “. Mola are the only known sea creatures that can generate lift in this way.
While the species Mola mola, or common sunfish, has been more studied than Mola alexandrini, the latter has taken many recordings of measurements. According to Ostale, Mola alexandrini have a rather sturdy head, but they lack caudal fins.
According to Thys, the sunfish discovered in Ceuta was probably over 20 years old and most likely a female, as no male over two meters has been found so far.
The world record weight of a sunfish goes to a specimen from Japan with a total length of 272 centimeters, or about nine feet, which weighed 2,300 kilograms, or 5,070 pounds. The longest recorded specimen, however, is 332 centimeters, or nearly 11 feet, but it was never formally weighed.
Mola alexandrini can probably spawn near the waters where it was found in Ceuta. They can also spawn off New South Wales, Australia, and they are known to travel thousands of miles, including from Taiwanese waters to New Caledonia.
According to Thys, the field of bluegill research is very active and a species called Mola tecta was named a few years ago.
Although researchers are unsure how long Mola alexandrini can survive after spending time in the nets – and know little about their population structure or lifespan – Thys is grateful that the fish have been handed over safely. safety in the water that day when he can “eat jellies, sail the waters, (and) live his wonderful life and cause wonder and awe in more people.”
âThis individual is a colossal reminder that our global ocean still holds many mysterious surprises, including massive marine megafauna that makes us gasp in wonder and awe,â Thys wrote. âBighead behemoths like this ocean sunfish can act as powerful ambassadors to pique our curiosity, inspire greater understanding and fuel the public’s desire to be better stewards of our marine ecosystems which are the vital system of our planet. “
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