It’s not unknown for strange things to be dredged up from the ocean, but this one was incredible. The fishermen hadn’t been expecting something of this size; surely it was a record? But after the fishermen’s initial amazement wore off, one big question remained: what they should do with the monster?
The ocean is full of unusual fish, and the surprises it hides just keep on coming. From abyssal creatures that look like horror movie monsters to gargantuan squid – and who knows what else is down there. Well, while we may never know all the mysteries of the deep, another example of unusual aquatic life has just been uncovered.
The creature in question was caught by a group of Russian fishermen. Now although the sailors haven’t been named, they come from Iturup on one of the Kuril islands. And the seafaring crew were amazed when they pulled a giant out of the Pacific Ocean.
On September 9, 2017, the men’s trawler was fishing the waters off the southern Kuril islands. But when the sailors reviewed their haul, they were stunned. You see, the fishermen had dredged up a titan of the deep quite unlike anything they had caught before.
Not only was the fish that the men had captured a rare one, but it was also an incredible size. More specifically, their nets had ensnared a colossal ocean sunfish. Rather confusingly, the species is also known as a moonfish in Russia. Whatever you choose to call it, though, it’s scarce in that part of the world.
And the mammoth monster weighed an astonishing 2,424 pounds – a size locals claim is unheard of in those waters. Indeed, Russian news channel RT confirmed this fact on September 14, 2017. The media outlet featured a quote from a colleague of the fishermen, a man named Artur Balkarov.
“There has been no such specimen that I can remember,” Balkarov said. “There is the dolphinfish, also known for its size. But I have never seen a sunfish weighing more than a ton here before,” he concluded.
And it wasn’t just the monster’s size that had the online community locked in debate; they were also divided over its identity. Some claimed the fish was, indeed, an ocean sunfish – also called a mola mola – but others recognized it simply as a sunfish, or opah.
As it transpired, though, the creature was indeed an ocean sunfish. The key to its identity is the tail – or lack thereof. You see, whereas opah have tails, mola mola don’t, and it’s this feature that marked the catch as an ocean sunfish. In any case, the fish was an amazing size.
Ocean sunfish get their name from their peculiar tendency to float to the ocean’s surface to sunbathe. In addition, they belong to the “bony fish” group, as they have bones instead of cartilage. And although they’re mostly harmless, their size and weight can prove dangerous if they leap out of the water.
Usually, though, ocean sunfish are docile creatures that show no aggression towards humans. Their diet typically consists of smaller fish, jellyfish, fish larvae and crustaceans and is actually of low nutritional value. This results in the fish needing to eat voraciously in order to fill their huge frames.
Despite its impressive size, however, the sunfish caught by the Russian fishermen isn’t the heaviest specimen on record. Indeed, one snared in 1910 off Santa Catalina Island, California, was reckoned to have weighed 3,500 pounds. On the other hand, incredible though the catch off the Kuril islands was, it weighed 1,000 pounds less than the Californian colossus. And now the fishermen didn’t know what to do with their mighty catch.
In fact, it took the men upwards of 24 hours to agree on a course of action. By then, however, time had run out for the ocean sunfish: used to living in the ocean depths, it had died. Hence, the fishermen’s opportunity to release the fish had already passed.
As a result, when the sailors arrived back at Iturup, they took the remains of the fish ashore. The behemoth’s carcass then remained in the port for another two days, and it was here that it began to decay. Ultimately, then, the fishermen decided to get rid of the rotting fish.
Meanwhile, scientists from the Sakhalin Museum had heard news of the massive catch. Excited by the rare sea creature, the experts wanted to preserve its remains – but its rapid decay put paid to their plans. Instead, the fish’s body met a different fate entirely, albeit one that benefited another of nature’s children.
You see, the fishermen didn’t want their catch to go to waste. Consequently, they took the rotting corpse to what The Siberian Times called “fish safari.” This is a place on Kuril where locals leave fish scraps for brown bears. The site, moreover, offers a vital helping hand to the animals who would otherwise struggle to survive in the area when food becomes scarce.
And some people approved of the fact that the ocean sunfish fed a potentially starving animal. On the Siberian Times, one person commented, “Good idea to feed the bears. They might stay away from the village and out of harm’s way.” Others, however, condemned the fishermen’s behavior.
Yes, many thought that the fish should never have been left to die in the first place. Another internet commenter said, “Please, it is necessary to protect fishes. Especially rare specimens and deep-water sea fishes.” Other online commenters mourned the loss of such a rare specimen, too.
Among their number were the scientists from the Sakhalin Museum, who lamented the loss of the ocean sunfish. Missing out on such a unique display specimen must have been a blow to them. They have, however, since been in talks with the fishermen.
As a result, if the fishermen land another significant catch, it will go to the Sakhalin Museum. So, as tragic as the loss of such a magnificent deep-sea fish is, at least the body didn’t go completely to waste. Yes, perhaps the colossal catch saved the life of at least one starving brown bear.