Fish: Friends, Foes and Mistaken Identities

A large fin protrudes from the sea surface, slicing through the waves, a familiar ominous tune starts playing, swimmers screaming, lifeguards shouting, the hysteria reaches a peak… only for the culprit to be discovered: a sunfish, merrily basking away, fin wiggling at the surface, oblivious to the drama at the beach.

sunfish fin

*Don’t panic!! Sunfish fin

But why are we so afraid? There have been numerous misidentifications over the years, leading to full scale beach evacuations and erroneous newspaper stories which seem to be designed to fuel the fear of fish. This great blog article by Dr Nicholas Payne, shows how many mistaken identities have occurred off Australia, even with videos of sunfish swimming under boats, labelled by local media as big sharks, all of which could have easily been rectified by confirming sightings with any biologist:

Of course big toothy fish are in theory, a bit scary, but this should be no more so then any other threat or animal capable of doing harm to humans… It is interesting to note that there are more human deaths caused each year by shopping on Black Friday (550) or vending machines (13) than by sharks (or fish in general) which is an average <6 and far more by mosquitos (2 million) or dogs (25,000), lions (100), even bees (53)! But the fear of fish remains far more pointed.

basking shark

Shark fin! (Basking shark…dangerous to plankton only)

Of course this is not helped by films of the Jaws-ilk, but have other animal movies had the same effect? Did The Birds, lead us to fear anything with feathers? Yogi Bear, to protect our picnic baskets and avoid the woods? Babe, to question the motives of pigs…? Okay maybe I am going a bit far… but perhaps occasionally we need to remind ourselves that film fear, while cleverly generated with special effects, music and props, is not real.

Let’s leave the drama off the beach this summer 🙂 and enjoy the sun(fish)


Any comments, questions, ideas?! I would love to hear from you (especially if you have seen a sunfish dead or alive!)

Tweet: @sunfishresearch




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