June 12, 2024

An enormous rare fish thought to live only in temperate waters in the southern hemisphere has washed up on Oregon’s northern coast, drawing crowds of curious onlookers intrigued by the unusual sight.

The 7.3-ft (2.2-metre) hoodwinker sunfish first appeared on the beach in Gearhart on Monday, the Seaside Aquarium said in a media release. It was still on the beach on Friday and may remain there for weeks, the aquarium said, as it is difficult for scavengers to puncture its tough skin.

Photos provided by the aquarium show a flat, round, gray fish lying on its side in the sand. Photos of a person kneeling next to it, and another of a pickup truck parked next to it, gave a sense of its large size.

The 7.3-ft fish first appeared on the beach on Monday. Photograph: Tiffany Boothe/Seaside Aquarium/AP

The stir it has created on social media prompted a New Zealand-based researcher who has studied sunfish to contact the aquarium. After looking at photographs of the fish, Marianne Nyegaard was able to confirm that it was indeed a hoodwinker sunfish – rarer than the more common ocean sunfish – and said she believed it may be the largest such fish ever sampled, according to the aquarium.

In research published in 2017, Nyegaard discovered through genetic sampling and observation that the hoodwinker sunfish, or Mola tecta, is a different species from the ocean sunfish, Mola mola. “Tecta” in Latin means hidden or disguised, referring to a new species that had been hiding in plain sight.

In previous years, the hoodwinker sunfish has washed ashore on the California coast. It has again washed ashore more recently in both California and Alaska, challenging the theory that it only lives in the southern hemisphere, the aquarium said. It is also likely that the fish has washed ashore in other parts of the Pacific north-west but was mistaken for the more common ocean sunfish at the time, the aquarium added.

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