The beaching of multiple, rare sunfish at separate corners of the state has experts intrigued by why the species is suddenly appearing on Tasmanian shores.
The beaching of multiple, rare sunfish at separate corners of the state has experts intrigued by why the species is suddenly appearing on Tasmanian shores.

Massive rare fish are washing ashore on beaches

THE beaching of multiple rare sunfish at separate corners of the state has experts intrigued by why the species is appearing on Tasmanian shores.

Beachgoers at Ralphs Bay, including Lindisfarne mum Triona O'Neill, got a shock last week when they saw a dead 1.96cm Hoodwinker sunfish had washed ashore.

The species - which can grow to 2300kg - is regarded as the largest bone fish in the world.

A giant sunfish found washed up at Purdon Bay on Tasmania's North East Coast.
A giant sunfish found washed up at Purdon Bay on Tasmania's North East Coast.

Guests on a Tasmanian Walking Company tour last week also got a surprise to see a giant sunfish had become beached at Purdon Bay in the state's North East.

"When I was walking towards it on the beach, I thought to myself 'why is there a huge rock there'," tour guide Kyle Hodgkinson said.

"It's definitely the strangest thing I've seen on a tour in a long time. But it has created an interesting talking point while guiding."

A third sunfish beaching in Tasmania across the past week was also reported at Friendly Beaches on the state's East Coast.

Previously, the last reported sighting of the species was in 2015 on Maria Island, one year after a Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race crew reported colliding with a sunfish which damaged the vessel.

 

Tasmanian Walking Company Tour Guide Kyle Hodgkinson who stumbled across a giant sunfish washed up on the state's North East Coast.
Tasmanian Walking Company Tour Guide Kyle Hodgkinson who stumbled across a giant sunfish washed up on the state's North East Coast.

CSIRO Australian National Fish Collection researcher Helen O'Neill, who collected genetic samples of the Ralphs Bay beached sunfish, said although three reports of the species in Tasmania in one week was rare, she said it was also "not completely surprising".

"It's a bit more unusual to see three but it might be because more people are taking an interest in them and more reports are coming in," she said.

"They can be expected to be seen in Tasmania at this time of year due to the pattern of the Eastern Australian Current, but three washing up is a bit more odd."

Ms Helen O'Neill said the CSIRO was planning to gather further samples of the two sunfish beached on the state's East Coast.

"Samples would be very useful to record and generate data because we might see a change in things over the years with water warming," she said.

"We could also see more coming down and we might possibly find another species of sunfish."

 

'Sad' and 'unusual' find on Tasmanian shoreline

A RARE, giant fish, which can grow up to 2300kg, was found washed up on a Tasmanian shoreline on New Year's Day, sparking calls for an investigation.

Lindisfarne mother Triona O'Neill was out walking along the beach at Rokeby when she noticed a large specimen beached ahead of her.

"I thought it was a dolphin or a seal at first then as I got closer I could see that it had a completely different consistency, being it very flat and round," she said.

Rare sunfish found washed up on shores at Rokeby.
Rare sunfish found washed up on shores at Rokeby.

After taking photos of the unusual fish, Ms O'Neill sent the pictures around to some fish experts who informed her the beached species was a sunfish or Mola mola as it's scientifically referred to.

Ms O'Neill said the dead sunfish was at least 1m in diameter.

"It's probably the biggest fish I've ever seen and the most unusual thing I've come across on a beach," she said.

Photos of the fish have been uploaded to marine species reporting website Redmap.

Sunfish can grow to 2300kg in size and can notch a top speed of 3.3km/h. They can release as many as 300 million eggs at a time.

Marine biologist and Marine Sciences Association past president Gina Newton described the fish discovery as "surprising and quite sad".

She said it's important authorities investigate the beaching.

"They would be able to conduct an investigation into what caused its death, age and sex," Dr Newton said.

"The species does like to eat jellyfish and its not unheard of for it to mistakenly eat plastic bags, that's not to say that's how this one died though.

"Of course Tasmanian waters are heating up faster than other places so, again, it could be a contributing factor to what's happening with climate change."

A sighting of the species was reported in 2015 when a large sunfish washed up at Maria Island on the state's East Coast.

A year earlier, sailors participating in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race linked the collision with a sunfish - which can grow to 3m in size - as a reason for their boat sinking.

 

james.kitto@news.com.au

 

 

Originally published as Why giant, rare fish are washing ashore in Tassie



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