Sunfish in the spotlight!

What a whirlwind of a few weeks and plenty of news to share! To begin with, I have very exciting news, that we have been very lucky to have enjoyed an amazing day long shoot with the Discovery Channel! Yes sunfish have hit the spotlight! We had perfect weather, the Tonnarella was full of fish and the nets pulled up to reveal… no sunfish. What awful timing! We then spent a good few hours searching for the last deployed tags from sunfish Giorgio…. with no success. Luckily the documentary is only to be approximately 6 minutes long, so we won’t be allowed to bore people too much!



Myself (top) and Nick’s (below) interviews with Giuseppe and Antonio

In reality, this provides an honest overview of our work, showing the inconvenient truth that much of a marine biologist’s work is frustrating, time consuming and far less glamorous than the media usually portrays. Even after months of preparation, years of sunfish catch records demonstrating the abundance of fish in the area… wild animals will always be just that. Wild. Unpredictable. And of course incredibly rewarding to study!


A reminder of better days: tagging sunfish Giorgio

But despite the sunfish set backs we had a wonderful day on the water and I really want to send many, many thanks to our director Lara Landa, our interviewer and soundman Giuseppe Mangione and cameraman Antonio di Domenico! A really lovely, professional group who we had a great laugh with and who have very kindly offered to come back and film again when we have more sunfish! Watch this space!

The latest good news I have to offer is the triumphant return of sunfish Giorgio’s harness! This was found a week later, floating near Genoa by local resident Mauro whilst swimming from his boat and he very kindly contacted me straight away. So after a flurry of emails, I rushed up to Genoa and here we have Mauro with the harness which was exchanged for the 30 euro reward.  I am delighted to have the first sunfish data back and cannot express my thanks enough to Mauro. Citizen science is finally becoming more and more recognised and in this case, Mauro’s actions have been invaluable!



Mauro and the well-travelled harness with data logger!!

Now to find that next fish…!


3 thoughts on “Sunfish in the spotlight!

  1. Hello! Some weeks ago I was searching the Internet for funny fish (of which Sunfish certainly are!) and happened on your site. Since then, I’ve occasionally followed your blog out of curiosity.

    So, I see you’ve collected some accelerometer data. I went back in time in your blog to see how you planned to use this data and found this:

    I could see how acceleration data could provide some clues about what a fish is doing. And from that post it seems you’re looking for fairly detailed behavior. I’m really curious how you will be able to associate acceleration patterns to behaviors. What is the ground truth? And do you suspect there will be ambiguity (e.g. chasing vs evading)?


    • Hello! Sorry for the late reply, I have just returned to my desk at university (very unreliable internet connection during fieldwork!) Yes I am collecting accelerometer data as this will record the sunfish’s movement in 3 axes at a rate of 20 times a second. From such detailed records, it is possible to approximate sunfish energy use, track their movements via dead-reckoning and understand their behaviour. At the moment I am most interested in considering ‘normal’ swimming behaviour of sunfish of different sizes, and we can determine this by looking at the depth and accelerometry trace data (little change in depth, upright body, some lateral sway, but mostly movement in the surge axis). If we wanted to unravel their entire behavioural repertoire (normal swimming, rapid evasion, basking, feeding events etc.) this is also possible, but slightly more complex! We can a) attach the harness to captive fish and film their behaviour to compare the accelerometer traces to the observed behaviour (thereby all behaviours are ground truthed), b) use modelling software to help visualise wild fish’s movements and use attached animal-bourne cameras to ground truth, and c) use spectral analysis to classify each behaviour using machine learning algorithms (for more details try this excellent paper by David McClune who attached accelerometers to collars on badgers: When we get around to analysing the sunfish behaviour in such detail, it is likely we will use a combination of these 3 approaches. As you say it can be difficult to avoid all ambiguity, as in many cases, one behaviour can be mistaken for another and so usually rather than defining all behaviours, a selection of common, clearly identifiable behaviours are selected. I hope that helps answer your question, but if you are interested there is lots more information on this in the literature and I can recommend a few more papers if you fancy some further reading 🙂 Best wishes, Natasha


      • Thanks for your response. I’ve looked at your response a few times for quite a while and I did read the paper you shared (thanks for sharing). Your response and the paper has certainly answered my question. I actually have a machine learning perspective and this is why I was curious about your data. While I don’t work in your field, I am still quite curious about how you will solve this problem. I look forward to your analysis.


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