Rare, 7-Foot-Long Fish Found On California Beach, Shocks Experts

A Mola mola sunfish at the Montery Bay Aquarium in California.Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

A giant hoodwinker sunfish, thought to only be found in the Southern Hemisphere, was discovered last week in California.

A 7-foot-long sunfish shocked scientists and beachgoers when it washed up on a beach in Santa Barbara, California. The fish discovered last week was initially thought to be a common Mola mola ocean sunfish, a type known to swim in the Santa Barbara Channel. But when evolutionary biologist Thomas Turner uploaded photos of the creature to an online scientific community site, experts identified the creature as the extremely rare Mola tecta, or hoodwinker sunfish.

"I literally nearly fell off my chair," Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia said in response to the photos. Nyegaard had discovered the hoodwinker sunfish in 2017, which had only ever been found outside of the Southern Hemisphere on one other occasion in 1889. Fish expert at the South Australian Museum Ralph Foster echoed Nyegaard's surprise. "It'd be quite a turn up for the books if it really is M. tecta, I think," he wrote in response to Turner's post.

"After Marianne and Ralph saw my photos, they got quite excited but were hesitant to say it's a hoodwinker because as far as we know it doesn't appear anywhere nearby, never been reported in the Americas," Turner said. He and his colleague Jessica Nielsen returned to the fish to collect more detailed images and tissue samples for analysis at their lab at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Upon seeing the new photos, Nyegaard immediately confirmed that the giant beached fish was definitely a hoodwinker. The Australian sunfish expert will test the tissue samples to compare the Californian hoodwinker to the species found in Australia.