By Judy Flores Partlow
DUMAGUETE CITY, (PNA) -– A huge ocean sunfish, weighing about 50 kilos, and which hardly appears in shallow and coastal waters in the Philippines, was found dead off the shores of Sibulan, Negros Oriental on Tuesday morning.
Two fishermen found the ocean sunfish (genus Mola but whose species has yet to be verified) near the wharf at Sibulan, which drew a lot of attention from a large crowd who had not seen such kind of fish in their lifetime.
According to Dr. Janet Estacion, OIC director of the Silliman University-Institute of Environmental and Marine Science (SU-IEMS), “the sunfish is a very solitary fish and is rarely seen in the wild”.
The ocean sunfish is the heaviest known bony fish in the world, is pelagic and prefers to swim in deep waters in most of their lifetime, said Dr. Estacion in an interview.
Based on scientific literature, the sunfish is not edible although Dr. Estacion admits some countries, like Japan, consider its meat a delicacy.
The sunfish was brought to the SU-IEMS marine laboratory at noon Tuesday where Dr. Estacion led a team in the preservation of the dead ocean sunfish which she described as a “rare occurrence”.
Rare, in the sense, that only a few documented findings of sunfish, whether stranded or coming close to the shore, have been reported in the Philippines, she pointed out.
Measurements taken showed the dead sunfish was 1.3 meters wide from fin to fin and about 1.4 meters long from snout to tail, Dr. Estacion said.
The sunfish stays deep in the ocean and can only be seen when they come up to the surface, usually when they are sick, she added.
On injuries found on the dead sunfish, Dr. Estacion said these could be caused by a number of reasons, such as being hit by a ship, or by accidental catch with a fishing net. The appearance of the sunfish in relation to the Magnitude 7.2 earthquake that hit Bohol last week could also not be ascertained.
But Estacion said she believes the sunfish was already distressed before it came out from the depths.
The marine scientist also disclosed they found it had a lot of parasites while in the process of preserving it by injecting formaldehyde and other chemicals for its preservation at the marine laboratory.
Estacion said they also tried to get DNA samples from the sunfish whose skin and meat are very tough and like “collagen material”.
“We will preserve it. Hopefully, if successful (in preservation attempts) we can make a good exhibit out of it” for the public, she added.
The species of the dead sunfish has not been immediately known but, according to Estacion, they already suspect a particular local species but this has yet to be confirmed. She said early reports the sunfish was of the Mola Mola species is not verified yet.
The SU-EIMS OIC director has thanked the persons who brought the sunfish to the marine laboratory as it will help marine scientists in their research of this rare fish. Information about these types of ocean fish can only be gleaned when they come up to the surface or strand themselves, she added.
While she is not sure whether the sunfish is listed as a threatened species, she highlighted the fact that this is not an ordinary fish that can be seen in the market.
The marine laboratory will do its best to preserve the sunfish in a wet tank as it would be more impressive for exhibit as opposed to a dry one which makes it lose its color.
In all of her lifetime as a marine scientist, Dr. Estacion said this is her 2nd time to see a sunfish while reports in previous years said one was stranded in Pamilakan Island off Bohol, another one in Davao and an incident in San Jose or Amlan town in Negros Oriental sometime between 2005-2006.