Marine biologists working in the Azores have recorded the largest sunfish ever at 6,049 pounds (2,740 kilograms).
After towing it ashore and availing themselves of the help of a forklift to hoist the behemoth bony fish onto a hanging scale, they found it broke the Guinness World Record for heaviest bony fish, and weighed more than an entire NFL football team’s roster.
At around 10 feet in length (3.25 meters), the sunfish, also called a “mola,” was found near Faial Island in the Azores island chain by marine biologists of the Cetacean Stranding Network, who help dispose of large floating whale carcasses among other responsibilities.
José Nuno Gomes-Pereira, the biologist that spotted the giant fish and who described it in the Journal of Fish Biology, says its discovery is a sign of hope.
“It means that the marine ecosystem is still healthy enough to sustain these large animals,” he says.
It is recorded as a bony fish, a classification that excludes sharks and rays, which is important not only because they have no bones, but because they are both extremely heavy genera.
As ocean-going fish that have no known regional habitat specifications outside of the polar regions, it’s not understood where molas spend most of their time, or what conditions they need to breed.
They are unpredictable in where they will appear at any given time of the year, but being that they tilt their massive bodies horizontally to sunbathe, they can be spotted very easily.
“I so love going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium because sometimes we have the sunfish shown on display in the million-gallon tank alongside the hammerheads and tuna. And then when the sunfish appears, people are just like, ‘Oh. Wow! Why?!’” says Tierney Thys, a marine biologist with the California Academy of Sciences and a National Geographic Explorer. “It’s an animal that just begs so many more questions.”
She wrote the first academic book on the molidae group which includes the giant or bump head sunfish, and the more common relative the mola mola, or ocean sunfish. She told National Geographic it’s a “colossal reminder” of good things.
“It’s a colossal reminder that our ocean still holds so many mysterious surprises,” said Thys.