After writing this blog post about the unusual behaviours of ocean sunfish, I was searching for illustration inspiration… and here we are!
Over the last two years I have seen hundreds of sunfish and these close encounters have given me plenty of opportunity to note a few things about their unusual behaviour!
So here are the seven strangest things I have learned about sunfish so far:
1. Sunfish are noisy! It may sound strange, but yes fish really can make noises (a useful communication tool in the marine environment as sound travels more easily through water than air). Our sunfish grumble and grunt (a lot!) in a disgruntled fashion, especially when we weigh them, (but then no-one likes having their weight read out loud I suppose?)
Puff your cheeks out! (pre-grunt)
2. They can throw mucus a distance of several feet! I’m pretty sure this is an unintended consequence of being very mucus-y fish with powerful flapping fins, so if anyone else is planning on working with them, beware of flying gunk -it gets everywhere: clothes/arms/ears/hair etc. eugh.
3. Sunfish can projectile poop. Yes you heard me, I was not prepared for that either. We were trying to collect some faecal samples for gut content analysis and things may have got out of hand (more literally than I like to remember!) Also hysterically funny! Only slight issue is that sunfish poo is bright orange and smells appalling. (I mean no one expects faecal samples to smell good, but this was unbelievable.)
Sunfish poo… to be avoided at all costs!
4. Although they look smooth, beneath the mucus layer, the skin of sunfish is very rough to the touch so if a flapping fin catches your arm, it’s exfoliating to say the least, like being towelled off with sanding paper.
5. Sunfish blink. They have a strong white muscle around the eye socket that they can use to wipe the eye or pull it back in if feeling threatened. Bit disconcerting when they wink at you… then shower you with slime/poo/seawater. Nice trick.
Photo on left shows the eye pulled in, protected from the measuring tape and then on the right, the fish peeks out again to see what we are doing… sneakily does it!
6. They are strangely curious fish, frequently swimming right up to the camera or hovering just under the boat looking up at us. The fishermen sometime use brooms to try push them away and prevent tangling!
Curiouser and curiouser…
7. Sunfish have a sense of humour. Okay, maybe I made this one up, but I watched Lawrence wrestle a particularly large one into the weighing tarpaulin and get slapped around the face for his trouble by a large fin… slapped by a wet fish!! Needless to say I think the fish won that battle.
Oh my what big fins you have?! All the better to slap you with!
If anyone has seen a stranded sunfish or has more sunfish pub facts, please use the comments section to get in touch or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org, or for further photos and project updates follow me on Twitter: @sunfishresearch or on Instagram: SunfishResearch