Two Giant Ocean Sunfish Wash Up on Cape Cod Beaches

Seagulls Massing in Protected Cove

The weather turned cold today with brisk north-northwesterly winds shuttling heavy autumn clouds over the Cape, ladened with promise of brief winter days and long winter nights.  Birds hunkered in leeward coves to wait out the blow.  Those winds abetted astronomically high tides to drive two large ocean sunfish onto north-facing Cape Cod beaches.  Each measured nearly seven feet in diameter and washed ashore on either side of the Cape Cod Canal: one in Brewster and the other in Bourne.

Students from Ipswich Examine Linnell Landing Ocean Sunfish

We received the first call around noon through the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay when a family spotted a huge, unidentified fish on the Sagamore Beach shore.  Once direct communication was established, the family sent cell phone pictures that confirmed the animal’s identify as a large ocean sunfish.  When we called Krill Carson from the NEBShark Project to report this finding, she told us that she was en route to a reported ocean sunfish stranding at Linnell Landing in Brewster.  Since she was in Middleboro on the mainland side of the canal and we were in Eastham on the Outer Cape, we switched critters.  Krill would check out the Sagamore sunfish and we would examine the Brewster creature.  Light would be fading fast on a mid-November afternoon, and each sunfish needed to be documented before sunset … and before another astronomically high tide might drag it back out to sea.

Large Ocean Sunfish Deposited with Astronomically High Tide

We parked at the Brewster Historical Society and hiked the back trail to the beach.  Directly in front of the beach stairs we found a very large ocean sunfish that had been deposited on the tide.  A group of four boys from the North Shore joined us to learn more about this strange discovery on a bayside beach. 

Large Ocean Sunfish with Its Truncated Caudal (Tail) Fin

The sunfish measured six feet eight inches (curved surface) from tip of snout to trailing edge of caudal fin.  It measured seven feet five inches from the tip of the dorsal (top) fin to the tip of the anal (bottom) fin.  The dorsal fin was two feet four and a half inches high, and the anal fin was two feet three and a half inches low.

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Seven-Foot Sunfish at Linnell Landing, Brewster

Leaving Brewster and the Linnell Landing sunfish, we drove down the main Cape highway, Route 6.  The sun had long set when we reached the Sagamore Bridge and zigzagged through unlit backstreets to Phillips Road along Cape Cod Bay.  We crossed the coastal dune and saw a large shadowy shape illuminated by the dim ocean glow.

Ocean Sunfish on Dark Sagamore Beach

Krill had already inspected this animal and had taken a small tissue sample for analysis.  Just to be sure, though, we took measurements for our own records and for comparision with the Linnell Landing sunfish.

Sue Wieber Nourse Records Ocean Sunfish Measurements

The fun part is trying to take measurements and photographs in the pitch black night.  Luckily, our camera comes with infrared focus … and the hand-held cellphone offers illumination to read tapes and lighted keyboards to enter the data.  The Sagamore Beach sunfish measured six feet eight inches (curved surface) from tip of snout to trailing edge of caudal fin.  The doral fin had been sliced and its top was missing, so our tip of dorsal to tip of anal fin measurement is a bit short at six feet ten inches.  The animal’s girth (curved measurment) reached four feet seven inches.

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Seven-Foot Sunfish at Sagamore Beach, Bourne

For more information about pelagic ocean sunfish, see our post Exotic Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola).

One Response to “Two Giant Ocean Sunfish Wash Up on Cape Cod Beaches”

  1. […] reported in Turtle Journal on November 1st [Exotic Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)] and November 12th [Two Giant Ocean Sunfish Wash Up on Cape Cod Beaches].  The team confirmed the stranding of yet another sunfish on Thursday at Boathouse Beach on […]