A postdoctoral student at Australia’s Murdoch University, Marianne Nyegaard has spent five years of her academic career looking for the evidence that a fourth species of ocean sunfish exists. In 2014 she got lucky and finally got a call that one has washed up on the shore in New Zealand. This discovery is considered to be the first identification of the new sunfish species in 130 years.
The research team working with Nyegaard has determined that there are four distinct species of sunfish in 2009. However, they only had skin samples from three species but the DNA samples taken from more than 150 sunfish did make them believe that the fourth species does exist and is somewhere in the sea depths.
The, at the time, undiscovered species was named Hoodwinker alluding to the fishes capabilities of staying hidden and not being able to be discovered. The scientific name of the sunfish is Mola Tecta which originates in Latin meaning ‘hidden’.
Nyegaard commented: “We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time. Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the Hoodwinker.”
This scientific team has traveled across the Australian coast in search of evidence which supports the existence of this interesting species. In May of 2014, they got a call from the New England fishery reporting that they have found the coveted sun fish stranded in the sand near Christchurch in New Zealand. They traveled there instantly to collect the skin samples and to identify them.
Nyegaard commented on this event: “When I was asked if I would be bringing my own crane to receive a specimen, I knew I was in for a challenging but awesome adventure,” alluding to the fact that this particular sunfish is the heaviest fish in the sea and her weight is around two tons.
Up until recently, she has collected the total of 27 specimens and was able to publish the discovery in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society on Wednesday.