SANTA BARBARA (CBSLA) — A species of fish never before seen in the Northern Hemisphere washed up near Santa Barbara recently.
The 7-foot-long Mola tecta, or hoodwinker sunfish, washed up on a beach on the east side of the Coal Oil Point Reserve in Santa Barbara County. According to the reserve, the species is one of the heaviest bony fish in the world.
The species has only been known to the world since 2014, and has never before been observed in the Northern Hemisphere.
An intern alerted Coal Oil Point conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen to the discovery on Feb. 19, according to UC Santa Barbara.
“This is certainly the most remarkable organism I have seen wash up on the beach in my four years at the reserve,” she told the university.
It was initially assumed to be a mola mola, an ocean sunfish known to swim in the Santa Barbara Channel. But Nielsen’s photos posted to the reserve’s Facebook page caught the attention of UC Santa Barbara professor Thomas Turner, who dragged his family down to the beach to see the fish.
UC Santa Barbara says two fish scientists from the South Australian Museum saw Turner’s photos posted to iNaturalist, an online community for scientists, and confirmed the fish was indeed the elusive, two-ton Mola tecta.
The scientists say it’s not clear how the Mola tecta ended up so far from its known range in the Southern Hemisphere.