Holiday blog special! Beach combing for bodies: sun, sand… & a stranded sunfish!

Today is a special holiday blog! I know, I know, we’ve all seen so many Instagram perfect pictures of sunny beaches and tropical skies sometimes it’s hard to take as autumn settles in but please bear with me as this holiday involves beach combing for bodies… you’ve guessed it –we had a sunfish stranding!

To cut a long story short, I tried to have a holiday this past week in Cornwall, leaving my sunfishy stuff behind me, locked in the office and not to be thought of at all. But while I was happily munching through mountains of scones with real Cornish clotted cream (yum!) life had other plans… The Cornish Wildlife Trust sent me an email, of all the beaches in all the world, a sunfish had just stranded dead near Newquay, less than 40 minutes from where I was staying!

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Needless to say, I jumped in the car (accompanied by my boyfriend, mum and dog) and headed over to the site where it had last been seen stranded partially up a river estuary. We waited for low tide, expectations low, in case the recent storm surge had dragged it back to sea… but after an hour of searching the sand we spotted a large grey shape! After battling the dog to reach it first, it turned out that the sunfish was in great condition (the birds had only been able to steal the upturned eye and a quick peck at the less armoured ‘openings’ of the fish) so minus a few oozings, it was really fresh. Infact so fresh, that when we cut it open to collect our tissue samples, it still felt warm! Amazing and disgusting all in one, ah the life of a marine biologist.

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I am so grateful for the alert from the Wildlife Trust as although stranded fish like this are a sad sight, they provide vital data for our research. Using our scrambled dissection kit, including my mum’s best steak knife and an old teaspoon (don’t worry we washed them first!) we were able to collect samples of skin, muscle, vertebrae, teeth and the other eye! Yes we tea-spooned out an eyeball, (turns out my mum didn’t want the spoon back so it’s now in my regular dissection kit). Over the last few days I have been preserving these samples for future analyses so please watch this space!

If anyone else spots a dead sunfish please do get in touch and if you are happy to take a little snip from the fin (or any more adventurous samples) then please please drop me a line below in the comments or email me at: nphillips01@qub.ac.uk or tweet me @SunfishResearch

Sunfish in flight! From London to Belfast safe and sound

 

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