Rare sea creature, the hoodwinker sunfish, washes ashore in Southern California

Thomas Turner               
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Although research on sunfish (fish in the Mola genus) has gone on for decades, scientists formally named the newfound bony fish only in 2017, after a dead one washed ashore near Christchurch, New Zealand, Live Science previously reported. "Mola tecta was just recently discovered so there is still so much to learn about this species".

The University of California, Santa Barbara, said an intern spotted the stranded fish last week at Sands Beach in the university's Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve.

Although the fish has been identified, the mystery of how it wound up on a California beach when it has only been seen around New Zealand and Australia has yet to be solved.

An intern alerted Coal Oil Point conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen to the discovery on February 19, according to UC Santa Barbara.

Thomas Turner, an associate professor in UC Santa Barbara's ecology, evolution and marine biologist department, took photos of the sunfish and posted them on iNaturalist, a community for scientists pursuing species identifications.

The massive creature was initially thought to be a mola mola, a sunfish known to inhabit the Santa Barbara Channel, according to KCBS. It is even taller (fin tip to fin tip) than it is long!

Nyegaard told UCSB in an email that she discussed the images with ichthyologist Ralph Foster of the South Australian Museum but was reluctant to identify the fish as a hoodwinker because the photos didn't clearly show distinctive features and because it had turned up so far out of its known range.

Nyegaard, after Turner and Nilsen provided her with clearer and more detailed photos, was able to determine it was indeed a hoodwinker.

Ocean sunfish
A common sunfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium shows the size of these odd ocean

"I literally, almost fell off my chair", Nyegaard said in the statement, which also noted it's not clear how the sunfish was found so far from its normal range.

Another close-up of the hoodwinker sunfish. Additionally, its clavus has a rounded margin and is separated into upper and lower parts, the researchers reported.

They walked from opposite ends of the beach and found it several hundred yards from its original position.

"When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt". Nielsen posted pictures on the UCSB Reserve's Facebook page.

Scientists suggest that the sunfish may be a specimen of the still unexplored pack of hoodwinker living in the waters of North America.

"I literally, almost fell off my chair (which I was already sitting on the edge of!)", she said of her reaction to what the UC Santa Barbara naturalists provided.

"Without attentive eyes, camera phones and social media, the Australian ichthyologists would have never learned that this fish had just been seen for the first time in the Northern Hemisphere", said Cris Sandoval, director of Coal Oil Point Reserve.

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