Exciting news for those who love a mystery! Get your deerstalkers on and let’s play at being detectives…. A giant hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) has just been discovered washed up on a beach in California, USA, but where did it come from?! At first thought to be the more common species for the region, Mola mola, submission of photographs to citizen science app INaturalist, quickly turned this already infrequent event into something even more exciting!
The specimen was confirmed as Mola tecta and there’s a twist in the tale, Mola tecta was first identified in 2017 after its discovery off the coast of Australia and has since been noted in New Zealand and South Africa and so this new discovery represents the first Mola tecta noted in North American waters. So how did a Mola tecta arrive in sunny California? Is this rare stranding a lost fish gone off dramatically off course? As any budding Sherlock Holmes will know, we need to explore for clues!
The plot thickens as in fact, this is not the first known occurrence of Mola tecta in the Northern Hemisphere. However, although this species has made the journey north before, this has only been noted once and on the other side of the world in the Netherlands! After the discovery of the species Mola tecta in 2017, the Naturalis Museum in Leiden came to the slightly embarrassing realisation that they had been displaying a specimen since 1889, labelled as the wrong species.
So our Californian Mola tecta may not be a lonely wanderer or the result of a fish’s failed internal GPS, but perhaps they have always been there, roaming the world’s oceans just waiting to be discovered. As always we need to learn more about these fascinating fishes and until then, the mystery continues…
Mola tecta in the wild (photo credit César Villarroel, ExploraSub)
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