Sunfish surprise Murdoch University researchers

Sunfish surprise feature

Murdoch University researchers have partnered with the Commonwealth longline fishing industry and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority (AFMA) to find out more about sunfishes around Australia.

Murdoch University PhD student Marianne Nyegaard said that she is fascinated by sunfish.

“They capture our imaginations with their bizarre oversized head-like bodies that can grow up to three metres and an elusive, deep-diving lifestyle that makes encounters rare,” Ms Nyegaard said.

“A lot of research has been done in the northern hemisphere but not so much in the south, so we set out to find which species are the most common in the oceans around Australia and New Zealand and whether water temperatures play a part in their distribution.

“We sampled sunfish from museum collections and longline bycatch, expecting to find plenty of the world famous Mola mola. Instead we found that three other sunfishes, Masturus lanceolatus, Mola alexandrini and Mola tecta dominate our oceans and that the globally significant Mola mola is actually rare.

“I think most people don’t realise there are five sunfish species globally and when they see a giant disc-like fish in the water or washed up on a beach, they immediately think it must be a Mola mola, but the chances in this part of the world is that it isn’t.

“It was during this work we found and described the new species, Mola tecta, which turns out to be the first new sunfish species to be described in nearly 180 years”

The CEO of AFMA, Dr James Findlay, said the researchers approached AFMA to create a partnership with the commercial longline fishing industry and AFMA, to collect tissue samples of all sunfish incidentally caught over a 12-month period from February 2013 to February 2014.

“AFMA Observers are placed on fishing vessels to undertake data collection including fish lengths and ages, along with information on the broader fishing operation,” Dr Findlay said.

“Occasionally the longline fishers catch sunfish and release them back into the water as the species has little commercial value, so we tasked the AFMA Observers to collect tissue samples as part of this research project.

“AFMA and the fishing industry are strong supporters of marine research, to ensure that Australia continues to have sustainable, world-class fisheries. That includes research into non-commercial species such as the sunfish.”

Marianne Nyegaard’s research has been published in the Journal of Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, which can be accessed via this link until 20 May 2018.
Posted on:

16 Apr 2018


Science, Research

Share this article:

Get in Touch

If you'd like to learn more about anything discussed in this article, please contact our media team.


Show your support

Clap to show your support for the article