A team of scientists in Portugal say they have discovered the world’s heaviest bony fish in the Azores archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean.
The giant sunfish, which weighs just over 3 tons, was discovered dead in the water off Faial Island in the Azores by a fisherman last December, the researchers said. A team from the Asociación Naturalista del Atlántico, a Portuguese ocean conservation organization, helped bring the huge creature to land.
“Of course, we realized that it was a huge sunfish… that day we had the correct perception that it should be a world record,” said José Nuno Gomes-Pereira, a researcher with the Atlantic Naturalist Association.
Gomes-Pereira and his team enlisted the help of a forklift to weigh and measure the fish.
It was 10.6 feet long and weighed about 6,050 pounds, according to the research paper, published in the Peer-Reviewed Journal of Fish Biology. It became the heaviest bony fish ever documented, breaking the record set in 1996 by a sunfish of the same species, Mola alexandrini. That one was discovered in Japanese waters, according to the research paper, and weighed about 2.5 tons.
There are two types of fish, cartilaginous and bony. Bony fish make up the majority of fish, according to Gomes-Pereira: think carp, salmon, and sea bass. Cartilaginous fish have skeletons made of cartilage and encompass species such as sharks and rays.
While the sunfish found in Portugal is the heaviest bony fish ever discovered, it is far from the heaviest ocean creature.
Whale sharks, which are cartilaginous, weigh about 11 tons, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature.
The largest animal in the ocean (and the world) is the blue whale, a mammal that can weigh up to 200 tons and stretch nearly 100 feet. according to WWF. is also the largest animal in the world, period.
Gomes-Pereira told USA TODAY on Friday that the sunfish discovery was in part encouraging because it showed that the ocean can still support some of the largest fish on the planet. The sunfish is listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Precise population estimates for the Mola alexandrini species are scarce, Gomes-Pereira said. He believes the number may be in the few thousand depending on the frequency of sightings by fishermen.
But the landmark discovery also highlighted a considerable threat to large ocean wildlife.
“It is also a warning, because we found the dead animal, that more management should be done regarding boat traffic,” said Gomes-Pereira. A large depression in the sunfish indicated that it was probably killed by a ship collision.
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Gomes-Pereira said that the large cargo ships that sail near oceanic islands, such as the Azores, pose a threat to the rich marine biodiversity.
“It’s where turtles, sharks and whales breed…it’s an international problem,” Gomes-Pereira said.
The phenomenon has been particularly severe in the Pacific Ocean, where at least 80 whales are killed each year in cargo ship collisions, with the worst years on record coming in 2018, 2019 and 2021. USA TODAY reported.
“We can all do a little better in that regard,” Gomes-Pereira said. “It is international legislation in some cases, it is not easy. So I hope this finding can contribute a little bit to the discussion.”
The scientists also took skin samples from the fish and analyzed its stomach contents to learn more about this particular sunfish species.
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