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July 31, 2017 | by  | in News Splash |
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Scientific Community Hoodwinked for 130 Years

A new species of the giant ocean sunfish has been found in New Zealand waters. It was discovered and formally described by an international team of researchers led by Murdoch University student Marianne Nyegaard.

It is the first new species of sunfish to be discovered in 130 years.

The discovery was the result of four years of work by Nyegaard, who began to notice genetic differences in sunfish samples from New Zealand while studying their genetics as part of her PhD.

“A Japanese research group first found genetic evidence of an unknown sunfish species ten years ago, but the fish eluded the scientific community because we didn’t know what it looked like,” Nyegaard said.

“Finding these fish and storing specimens for studies is a logistical nightmare due to their elusive nature and enormous size.”

Over a three-year period, Nyegaard travelled thousands of kilometres to collect samples from 27 specimens that had washed up on remote beaches.

Sunfish are the heaviest of all bony fishes; some specimen weigh more than 2000kg, and they can grow up to three metres long. The new species is thought to reach a similar size.

The fish was named the Mola tecta (Hoodwinker Sunfish), from the Latin tectus, meaning “hidden”, due to its elusive nature.

“This is an exciting discovery, and right in our own backyard,” Professor Jeff Shima, Director of Victoria University’s Coastal Ecology Lab, told Salient.

“Sunfish are remarkable fish. They are bizarre in appearance, and look like a swimming fish head. This new specimen from New Zealand waters is classified as a new species because, […] although it closely resembles its better known cousin the Mola mola, it appears to be genetically distinct.”

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