A giant, ‘sunbathing’ fish that washed ashore in Oregon turned out to be an unexpected oddity

A giant species fish that was first discovered According to marine biologists, the animal washed ashore last week in Oregon.

On June 3, beachgoers from Gearhart, a small city just south of Washington’s border, discovered the 7.3 foot-long hoodwinker, also known as a Mola Tecta.

The species was discovered in 2017, and it has been spotted occasionally near Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Northwest. It can be identified by a thick flap in place of the tail.

When Keith Chambers assumed that the gray, circular fish he first saw on the beach was just a regular ocean sunfish, he was wrong.

He said, “I’ve seen many of them.” “It wasn’t that spectacular for me.”

Marianne Nyegaard is a marine biologist who noticed something special in the aquarium. Facebook photo showcasing their finding — the fish had smooth skin and a two part tail. She identified the fish, which she has been researching for years, as a mola-tecta.

“As quickly as we could we just jumped into the car and drove south to see it,” Nyegaard who lives in New Zealand was visiting Seattle on that weekend.

“It’s a fantastic accident.” It doesn’t really get any better,” she said.

“It’s as if I can’t escape them,” she added, chuckling.

newly discovered and rare species of sunfish (Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)newly discovered and rare species of sunfish (Courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Newly discovered and rare species (Courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

The Latin word “mola” means “milestone”, which refers to a fish’s flat, circular body. The fish are known for floating along the ocean’s surface — what some scientists lightheartedly refer to as “sunbathing.”

Nyegaard, however, said that the activity has a very important purpose: to catch jellyfish and gelatinous creatures as prey.

When they hunt, sunfish dive deep into colder waters. They use the sun to warm themselves because their bodies are unable to regulate temperature. While fish are lying on the surface of the ocean, birds eat parasites that have attached themselves to their skin.

Nyegaard explained that hoodwinker sunfish differ from ocean sunfish in certain features. Ocean sunfish’s skin wrinkles as they grow. Hoodwinker sunfish have always been completely smooth.

Sunfish have a flap where a normal fish has a tail. The flap of an ocean sunfish is wavy, and it has bony structures. The flap of the hoodwinker is divided in two parts, and each can be moved independently.

Nyegaard stated that “we don’t understand why the two species need different rear ends.” She said that some theories suggest they need the two-part flap for agility or steering.

Nyegaard said scientists are still puzzled by sunfish. There are five different species including the hoodwinker. It is not known how they can live together.

Nyegaard said it’s unclear if hoodwinkerfish in Australia and New Zealand have any connection to those in the Pacific Northwest, and migrated across the Equator.

Since the discovery, people flock to Gearhart Beach in order to see the lone hoodwinker lying on the sand.

Tierny Thays, marine biologist with the California Academy of Sciences said, “It is not the very first time that it has washed ashore, but it’s the largest one.”

“These sandings remind us of how humans only occupy a tiny 1% of this vast ocean world,” she said. It’s both inspiring and humbling to meet one of these incredible animals and a powerful reminder that we still have so much to learn.

This article was first published on NBCNews.com

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