MAR 04, 2019 06:51 AM PST

Giant Fish Thought to Live in the Southern Hemisphere Washes Up in California

Wildlife experts were both shocked and confused last week when a massive and unidentified fish measuring nearly seven feet in length had washed ashore at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve. Fortunately, a closer examination of the specimen helped scientists identify it as Mola tecta, or more colloquially called the hoodwinker sunfish.

This is the hoodwinker sunfish that washed up in California last week.

Image Credit: Coal Oil Plant Reserve/Facebook

Albeit not uncommon for fish and other large marine animals to become stranded on beaches, researchers admit that it was indeed unusual to see a hoodwinker sunfish on one of California’s beaches. This species of sunfish is understood to live in the Earth’s Southern hemisphere, but the state of California resides somewhat far above the equator – thousands of miles North of where the species is thought to exist.

According to a statement released on Facebook by the Coal Oil Plant Reserve, the circumstances are exceptionally intriguing because this is the first official record of a hoodwinker sunfish being observed anywhere in the Northern hemisphere.

"When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt. This is totally a hoodwinker," explained Marianne Nyegaard, the marine scientist credited with discovering the species. "I couldn't believe it. I nearly fell out of my chair."

"We know it has the temperate distribution around here and off the coast of Chile, but then how did it cross the equator and turn up by you guys? It's intriguing what made this fish cross the equator."

Related: The stomach of a deceased sperm whale that washed up was full of plastic, scientists say

All other confirmed sightings of the hoodwinker sunfish purportedly transpired far below the equator; such as off the coast of Chile in South America and off the coast of New Zealand, just Southeast of Australia. Other species of sunfish are known to reside in other parts of the world, but they tend to stay within their comfort zones without wandering too far.

The reason why this particular hoodwinker sunfish meandered so far away from its purported home remains to be seen, but scientists are actively investigating the matter. It’s possible that the fish just got lost, but alternative explanations, including climate change-induced temperature shifts, may have more sinister implications about the unusual situation.

Related: Large groups of birds and fish take advantage of 'wakes' to save energy and avoid collisions

For now, scientists have collected biological samples of the washed-up hoodwinker sunfish in case anything similar ever happens again; this should make quicker work of identifying any mystery fish that wash up in the future.

Source: BBC, CNN, Coal Oil Plant Reserve

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
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