Something fishy is coming…

Something fishy is coming…

What’s fishy, heavy, rarely seen and now at Te Papa?

A sunfish – the world’s heaviest bony fish!

This is a common sunfish, also called an ocean sunfish. Our specimen is the rarer sharp-tailed sunfish.

When Andrew Stewart got an email with some very exciting pictures from Tom Trnski at Auckland Museum on the 14th of May, he knew he was in for something special.

A group of surfers had found a sunfish beached at Omaha Beach north of Tawharanui Peninsula, Auckland. They tried to push it back out to sea to save it, but at the next low tide the sunfish was sadly found dead on the beach.

Once he had heard about it, Tom rushed down to pick up the rare specimen. Looking at the size of the fish – it’s 2.1 metres long and about the same from dorsal fin tip to anal fin tip – Tom knew he’d need a fishy facility with large tanks to deal with a specimen this big. Step up, Te Papa.

The sunfish is now in the freezer at Te Papa, awaiting our fish scientists (or ichthyologists, if you’re feeling knowledgable) to do some research on it.

Scientists think there are four species of sunfish, but we don’t know much about these mysterious animals. The fish currently residing in our freezer is the rarest of the family:  a sharp-tailed sunfish, Masterus lanceolutus.

We’re pretty excited; it’s rare to find a sunfish specimen in such good condition. Most sunfishes found on beaches have actually been dead for some time. Generally all that’s left is the sunfish’s leathery skin, with the inside having rotted away.

The specimen donated to Te Papa had been dead for only a few hours before it was frozen. This gives us the opportunity to learn more about these amazing species. It appears to be young and uninjured, so how did it die? How deep do they live? When do they feed? What sex is it? What has it been eating?

To find the answers to these questions and more, join us for our sunfish science extravaganza  on 13 August 2013. We’ll be live blogging and sharing the scientists’ findings through Facebook and Twitter. It’s a fantastic opportunity to sit in as scientists do their research on these rarely seen animals. Don’t miss out!

Stay tuned this week for more blogs about the amazing sunfish. You can find out more about sunfish and learn why Te Papa keep specimens.

Use #sunfishtepapa to join in the conversation on Twitter.

Follow the action on Facebook.

Thanks to Auckland Museum for kindly donating the sunfish to us and allowing us to share our sunfish science with people in New Zealand.


  1. yes to my last question, its a SUNFISH caught in 1908 massive specimen!

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing! We’ll have to take a trip to Wanganui Museum to look for it. I would guess that it’s probably a common sunfish, Mola mola.

      Our specimen is a sharp-tail sunfish, Masterus lanceolutus.

  2. any one know what the fish is on display at Wanganui Museum, its up on the wall there, been there decades.. possibly goes back to 1800s! thought that was a sun fish, could be wrong, only been up there once!

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