02 February 2011

Ocean sunfish rescue

Nick Gibbons

Nick Gibbons is an aquarist at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

See also: Ocean sunfish (Mola mola) in Sturrock Dry Dock

Having arrived at work on Monday, 10 January, 2011, the One&Only hotel and various other tenants of the V&A Waterfront marina notified the team at Two Oceans Aquarium that there was a large fish of some kind stuck in the marina’s canals. The trapped fish was in fact an ocean sunfish that had been stuck in the canals during the weekend; there were apparently two of these stranded fish confined within the canals.

The curatorial team jumped into action and launched Aquarium 1 (our new 11-metre semi-rigid inflatable boat). Some of the aquarists jumped into dive gear, while others scoured the canals in search of the elusive fish.

Having located the largest of the sunfish, we directed the divers to the fish’s location and an epic underwater wrestling match ensued as the dive team attempted to turn the giant fish onto its side. This is important, as the fish actually swims upright and not on its side, as many people believe. Once the fish is on its side it is easily subdued.

The sunfish was approximately 1.5 metres long and weighed about 150kg (it was a big one). The team was then faced with the challenge of hoisting this large animal into a holding tank on Aquarium 1.

While on the boat, I learned that sunfish are covered with parasites and at any given time can have up to 3 000 different parasites covering their bodies. Members of the team extracted some of these parasites for further research.

The sunfish is also the heaviest bony fish in our oceans, growing to a massive 4.2 metres in length and one tonne in mass! Our distressed sunfish was fairly large, however there is still much room for growth.

The team then headed out towards Robben Island with our precious cargo to return it safely into the open ocean.

On our return to the Aquarium, we were all very proud of what we had just achieved. Missions like these re-enforce our passion. But most importantly, we rescued a sunfish that, I am sure, is truly grateful for the action we took.

Rescue successful!

Click here to read more about the Aquarium’s work with sunfish.

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