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 weighed just over 3 tons, was discovered dead in the water on the Azores’ Faial island by a fisherman last December, researchers said. A team from the Atlantic Naturalist Association, a Portuguese marine conservation organization, helped bring the giant creature to shore.
“Of course we realized it was a giant sunfish… we had the right perception that day 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 report published in peer-reviewed Journal of Fish Biology. It became the heaviest bony fish ever documented, beating the record set in 1996 by a sunfish of the same species, Mola alexandrini. According to the research report, this was discovered in Japanese waters and weighed about 2.5 tons.
There are two types of fish, cartilaginous and bony. According to Gomes-Pereira, bony fish make up the majority of fish – think carp, salmon and perch. Cartilaginous fish have cartilage skeletons and include species such as sharks and stingrays.
While the sunfish found in Portugal is the heaviest bony fish ever discovered, it is far from the heaviest marine life.
Whale sharks, which are cartilaginous, weigh about 11 tons, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
The largest animal in the ocean (and the world) is the blue whale, a mammal that can weigh up to 200 tons and stretch to nearly 100 feet. according to WWF. It’s her too largest animal in the world, period.
Gomes-Pereira told USA TODAY on Friday that the sunfish’s discovery is encouraging in part because it showed the ocean can still support the life of some of the planet’s largest fish. Sunfish are listed as critically endangered the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Accurate population estimates for the species Mola alexandrini are scarce, Gomes-Pereira said. He believes the number could be in the thousands due to the frequency of sightings by fishermen.
But the historic discovery also highlighted a significant threat to large marine wildlife.
“It’s also a warning – because we found the animal dead – that boat traffic should be better controlled,” Gomes-Pereira said. A large indentation on the sunfish suggested it was likely killed by a ship collision.
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Gomes-Pereira said large cargo ships cruising near oceanic islands like the Azores pose a threat to the oceans’ rich biodiversity.
“Turtles, sharks and whales breed here… 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 in collisions with cargo ships each year, with the worst years on record being in 2018, 2019 and 2021. USA TODAY reports.
“We can all do a little better in that regard,” said Gomes-Pereira. “In some cases it’s international legislation, it’s not easy. Hopefully this insight can contribute a little 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.