19 December 2012

Summer is sunfish season

Helen Lockhart

Every summer sunfish come into the Waterfront, Table Bay and Simon’s Town harbours, and are often injured and/or disorientated.

Sometimes they are trapped in the dry docks and Two Oceans Aquarium staff are called out to rescue them before the docks are drained of water. Calls are also received from the public, to say that a strange fish is caught in the rocks or has beached itself. 

This summer has been no exception, and people have been sighting these animals on beaches around the Cape Peninsula. While the Aquarium would like to respond to every call about stranded sunfish, it is unfortunately unable to assist animals outside the Waterfront.

Sunfish are the largest bony fishes in the ocean, growing to up to 3m in length and weighing as much as 2 000kg. Very little is known about sunfish, which are so-called because of their habit of drifting at the surface as if basking in the sun.

It appears that there are only two species of sunfish found in the waters surrounding Cape Town: the ocean sunfish (Mola Mola) and the sharptail sunfish (Masturus lanceolatus). Ocean sunfish are found in all the oceans of the world, excluding the icy polar seas. Sharptail sunfish are found only in warmer waters, thus they are extremely rare in the local waters.

Those who have seen sunfish in the sea, have often only caught a fleeting glimpse of a fin or a large flat disk before they disappear into the ocean depths once more.

Only ocean sunfish have been displayed in the Aquarium, which is currently not looking for an animal to display.

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