Last December, the islanders of faialin the Azores, PortugalThey received a completely unexpected visitor. Along the shores of one of its beaches on the Atlantic Ocean appeared the largest fish seen so far.
It’s about a sunfishfrom the mola mola family, who weighed 2,720 kilos about –the weight of an SUV model car– and measured little more than three meters. This species belongs to the osteichthyans since it has a bony skeleton -unlike sharks and rays, which are cartilaginous- and it is the largest recorded to date.
“It is very rare to find large fish these days given overfishing and habitat degradation,” said the marine ecologist at Rice University, Cory Evanswho was not involved in the discovery.
Nevertheless, Jose Nuno Gomes-Pereiramarine biologist in the organization Atlantic Naturalist and co-author of the paper where the finding was documented, stated to New York Times that “it is not an abnormal specimen whose large size is due to a genetic mutation” but, on the contrary, explained that “These species can reach this size. Finally, we have managed to see and dimension one. There are more of these monsters out there.”
The body of the animal appeared floating off the coast of the Azores and, after being detected by local fishermen, a group of scientists from the NGO and the authorities in charge of marine biodiversity were notified. The specialists proceeded to tow the body to the port of Horta, where it was placed on the ground with the help of a forklift.
There, the already dead animal was subjected to a series of investigations and both Dr. Gomes-Pereira and his colleagues spent hours examining its body, the contents of its stomach and reviewing its measurements. When examining his organs, the team had the difficult task of cutting his skin which they discovered has a thickness of almost 20 centimeters.
Once all observations were completed, the animal was buried on a nearby piece of land since, due to its large dimensions, it was impossible for any local museum to have it on display.
Despite the hard work of scientists, they were unable to determine the exact age of the fish. Gomes-Pereira estimated that the creature had at least 20 yearsclose to the maximum time that this species is believed to live -although its life expectancy is not known for sure-.
For his part, there was a fact that helped investigators determine the cause of his death. A contusion on one of the sides of the animal’s head he pointed to think that it had hit a ship. Following this, the team stressed the importance of moving through the waters with great care and taking into account marine life.
Finally, the scientist took advantage of this unusual discovery to show people that the ocean is still healthy and able to house the largest animals on the planet and, therefore, it is important increase awareness and preservation measures. “It is a wake-up call about the need for us to promote more measures on the conservation” of the ecosystem, he assured.
The last record of a fish of similar dimensions was also on a female specimen of this species in Japan in nineteen ninety six. That osteichthyo weighed 2,300 kilograms and measured just over 2.5 meters.