New Brunswick

Gigantic mola mola fish washes ashore in St. Andrews

A rare ocean sunfish has washed up on the Bar Road in St. Andrews.

Numerous sightings of the tropical sunfish reported in the Bay of Fundy

This mola mola was spotting off Grand Manan Island by passengers on a whale watching cruise. (Courtesy of Erin Carpenter)

A 160-kilogram mola mola fish has washed up on a beach in St. Andrews, leading researchers to believe changing water temperatures in the Bay of Fundy may be more inviting to the creatures.

The ocean sunfish is normally found in much warmer tropical waters around the world.

However, there have been a handful of sightings in recent days in the waters off Lepreau, Grand Manan, as well as the one found washed up on the Bar Road.

Henry Clarke, who lives close to Bar Road, was one of the first people to spot the dead mola mola. He tied a rope around it, ready to haul the rotting carcass out to sea.

"I thought it was a skate [fish], a great big skate," said Clarke. "Then the girl from the Huntsman came along, and she was quite interested in it."

Amanda Babin is teaching a course on marine biology at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre this summer, and said dissecting the 2-metre long carcass was a perfect opportunity for her 21 students.

"It's the largest bony fish in the world and also because of its bizarre shape, it has these two paddle like fins on the top and bottom and a strange tail," she said.

Students at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre dissected the mola mola carcass, and plan to retrieve the skeleton once the fish decomposes. (Courtesy of Yifu Wang)

"We think he was eating quite well, he was a fairly young sunfish, and we believe the cause of death is that he got caught up in the ropes," said Babin. "There were a few parasites, such as tape worms on the liver and sea lice on the outside, but that would be fairly common for these fish."

There has only been a handful of mola mola ever spotted in the Bay of Fundy, but Babin said the warming water temperatures, now around 12 degrees, may entice more to come north.

"We are getting species that we don't typically see here," said Babin. "One of the most drastic things is [the warmer water] brought in a lot of squid. And that's the main prey item of sperm whales."

"We've seen sperm whales in the bay in the last three years, we hear about sharks in the bay, and that has to do with warming water."

An adult mola mola weighs 1,000 kilograms on average.

Only a handful of the animals have ever been discovered in the Bay of Fundy, mostly in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The Huntsman Marine students buried the carcass. It's expected to take a year to fully decompose before they can mount the skeleton.