I was looking through some old photos and came across these two, from my days as a curatorial assistant at the South Australian Museum. There’d been a call from the public about a “funny fish” washed up.
It’s a sunfish, one of four species of Mola in Australian waters, ‘mola’ being Latin for ‘millstone’. They are ocean-going, eat mainly jellyfish (and probably, alas, plastic bags) and are sometimes seen ‘sun-bathing’ (hence the name) on the sea surface. Some of them are really big, the heaviest known bony fish in the world. Nobody really knows much about their behaviour, so the sun-bathing could be a sign of a sick fish rather than of topping up a tan or storing heat energy.
To my chagrin, I can’t find any details about where or when or even who the other museum staffer was. The beach would have been somewhere near Adelaide, as I vaguely recall the drive to find it didn’t take very long. Adelaide is on a shallow gulf, so this one was hardly ocean-going. I did write an article about it, though:
Window, J. Sunfish in South Australia. The South Australian Naturalist 1978, 53(2): 29–31
I don’t even have a copy of the article, so the photos will have to stand by themselves. Pretty neat, huh?
[Update: The Museum of New Zealand posts about sunfish here.]