Sunfish washes up on Scottish beach

When experts from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme (SMASS) are called out, it is usually to deal with strandings of seals, whales, porpoises or dolphins.

However, this week the team was called to the Black Isle where an ocean sunfish Mola mola had washed up on a beach.

While the fish are sometimes spotted off the Hebrides, they are an unusual sight on Scotland's east coast.

Dr Andrew Brownlow, head of SMASS - part of Scotland's Rural College, said: “They are not uncommon visitors to the UK in the summer months, but most sightings have been off the Atlantic coast, so an animal apparently feeding well this far up the North Sea coast is quite unusual.

“Over the years SMASS has recorded a gradual increase of warm water species in more northern latitudes, probably driven by changes in prey distribution and a plausible indicator of a changing ocean climate.”

While sunfish – one of the heaviest bony fish in the world – can weigh up to a tonne, this specimen was around 120kg.

Dr Brownlow said there wasn’t an obvious reason for this animal stranding on the beach at Rosemarkie, on the Moray Firth, where it was found on Wednesday morning.

“There doesn’t appear to be obvious trauma, for example from bycatch in fishing gear, boat strike or even bottlenose dolphin attacks, so it may be it simply followed prey too close to the shore and was left by the falling tide,” he said.

The fish will be sent to the National Museums Scotland in Edinburgh where an investigation will be carried out to establish what it had been eating, check for any ingested marine debris and collect samples for genetics and stable isotope analysis.

Posted by SRUC on 25/09/2020

Tags: Marine, Research
Categories: Research