Gigantic ocean sunfish is first new species found in over 100 years

A team of scientists has identified a fourth ocean sunfish species -- making it the first new sunfish species to be discovered in 130 years.
By Jason Spencer | Jul 25, 2017
A team of scientists has identified a fourth ocean sunfish species making it the first new sunfish species to be discovered in 130 years.

The rarely seen fish, nicknamed Hoodwinker, remained elusive despite its huge size. It can grow as long as 10 feet and weigh as much as two tons, according to a report by Newsweek.

In 2009, Marianne Nyegaard, a postdoctoral student at Australia's Murdoch University, and her team determined from DNA samples taken from more than 150 sunfish that there are four separate species of sunfish. However, because scientists only had skin samples from three species, the researchers concluded that an as yet undiscovered fourth species must exist.

"We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," said Nyegaard, in the Newsweek report. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the Hoodwinker."

In 2014, Nyegaard saw her first Hoodwinker, or Mola tecta, after getting a tip from a fishery about four gigantic sunfish stranded on a beach near Christchurch, New Zealand. Then, for the next few years, she scoured the southern hemisphere for more Hoodwinkers. With the help of local fishermen, she collected 27 samples.

Hoodwinker has a slimmer adult body than other sunfish species and lacks their protruding snout and bumpy, swollen back fin, Nyegaard says. It also is quite a bit larger than other species.

Nyegaard's discovery is detailed in a paper published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

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