It’s not unknown for strange things to be dredged up from the ocean, but this one was incredible. The fishermen hadn’t been expecting something of this size; surely it was a record? But after their initial amazement wore off, there was the question of what they should do with the monster.
The ocean is full of unusual fish, and the surprises it hides just keep on coming. From abyssal creatures that look like horror movie monsters to gargantuan squid, who knows what else is down there? Well, another example has just been uncovered.
The creature in question was caught by a group of Russian fishermen. Although the sailors haven’t been named, they come from Iturup on one of the Kuril islands. The crew were amazed by the giant they pulled from the Pacific Ocean, and rightly so.
On September 9, 2017, the men’s trawler was fishing the waters off the southern Kuril islands. When the sailors reviewed their haul, they were stunned. They had dredged up a titan of the deep quite unlike anything they had caught before.
Not only was the fish they captured a rare one, but it was also an incredible size. To be more precise, their nets had ensnared an ocean sunfish. Rather confusingly, the species is also known as a moonfish in Russia. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s scarce in that part of the world.
The monster weighed an astonishing 2,424 pounds, a size locals claim is unheard of in those waters. Indeed, Russian news channel RT confirmed this on September 14, 2017. It featured a quote from a colleague of the fishermen, a man named Artur Balkarov.
“There has been no such specimen that I can remember,” Balkarov said. “There is the dolphinfish, also known for its size. But I have never seen a sunfish weighing more than a ton here before,” he concluded.
And it wasn’t just the monster’s size that had the online community locked in debate; they were also divided over its identity. Some claimed the fish was a sunfish, also called an opah. Others, though, recognized it as an ocean sunfish, or mola mola.
In fact, the creature was indeed an ocean sunfish; the key to its identity is the tail (or lack thereof). Whereas opah have tails, mola mola don’t, and it’s that feature that marks the catch as an ocean sunfish. Either way, it was an amazing size.
Ocean sunfish get their name from their peculiar tendency to float to the ocean’s surface to sunbathe. They belong to the “bony fish” group as they have bones instead of cartilage. And, although they’re mostly harmless, their size and weight can prove dangerous if they leap out of the water.
Usually, though, ocean sunfish are docile creatures that show no aggression towards humans. Their diet, which typically consists of smaller fish, jellyfish, fish larvae and crustaceans, is actually of low nutritional value. This results in the fish needing to eat voraciously to fill their huge frames.
Despite its impressive size, the sunfish caught by the Russian fishermen isn’t the heaviest specimen on record. Indeed, one snared in 1910 off Santa Catalina Island, California, was reckoned to have weighed 3,500 pounds. The catch off the Kuril islands was still incredible though, and the fishermen didn’t know what to do with it.
It took the men upwards of 24 hours to agree on a course of action. By that time, however, time had run out for the ocean sunfish; used to living in the ocean depths, it had died. The fishermen’s opportunity to release the fish had already passed.
As a result, when the sailors arrived back at Iturup, they took the remains of the fish ashore. It remained in the port for another two days, where it began to decay. Ultimately, the fishermen decided to get rid of the rotting fish.
In the meantime, scientists from the Sakhalin Museum had heard news of the massive catch. Excited by the rare sea creature, they wanted to preserve its remains, but its rapid decay put paid to their plans. Instead, the fish’s body met a different fate entirely, albeit one that benefited another of nature’s children.
The fishermen didn’t want their catch to go to waste. Consequently, they took the rotting corpse to what The Siberian Times called “fish safari.” This is a place on Kuril where locals leave fish scraps for brown bears. It offers a vital helping hand to the animals who would otherwise struggle to survive in the area when food becomes scarce.
Some people approved of the fact that the ocean sunfish fed a potentially starving animal. On the Siberian Times, one person commented, “Good idea to feed the bears. They might stay away from the village and out of harm’s way.” Others, though, condemned the fishermen’s behavior.
Many thought the fish should never have been left to die in the first place. Another internet commenter said, “Please, it is necessary to protect fishes. Especially rare specimens and deep-water sea fishes.” Other online commenters mourned the loss of such a rare specimen, too.
Among their number were the scientists from the Sakhalin Museum, who lamented the loss of the ocean sunfish. Missing out on such a unique display specimen must have been a blow to them. But they have since been in talks with the fishermen.
As a result, if the fishermen land another significant catch, it will go to the Sakhalin Museum. As tragic as the loss of such a magnificent deep-sea fish is, at least the body didn’t go to waste. And perhaps a catch of that size saved the life of at least one starving brown bear.