+27 (21) 418 3823

Aquarium on alert as slender sunfish wash ashore

By Two Oceans Aquarium / 4 February 2011

Slender sunfish on Sunset Beach, Milnerton. Photo Riaan le Roux Slender sunfish on Sunset Beach, Milnerton. Photo Riaan le Roux

The Two Oceans Aquarium has received a number of calls from concerned citizens regarding slender sunfish washing ashore around the Cape Peninsula. Sightings of these animals, both dead and alive, have been reported on beaches and in shallow water off Blouberg, Melkbos and Noordhoek.

According to Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Michael Farquhar, “The strong south-easterly winds we have been experiencing recently result in upwellings of icy cold water off our west coast. Slender sunfish are a tropical species and prefer temperate conditions. The reason for them washing ashore is probably because they are trapped inshore and cannot function in the cold water.”

At 80cm in length, the slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis) is a small animal compared to the giant ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which attains a size of 3m. The slender sunfish has smooth skin, as opposed to the sandpaper-like skin of the ocean sunfish. 

According to Ocean Sunfish.org, “The Polynesians called these sunfish the King of the Mackerels. It was seen as bad luck to catch and kill Ranzania, for such an act would render the mackerel incapable of finding their way to the islands.

“While ocean sunfish and sharptail sunfish (Masturus lanceolatus) are relatively common in our waters at certain times of the year, slender sunfish are rare and little is known about them. They are beautiful animals and for this reason we are keen to display one so that people have the opportunity to see them from an underwater perspective,” said Farquhar. “Many people had never heard of sunfishes, let alone seen one, until we displayed a sunfish in the I&J Predator Exhibit just after the Aquarium opened in 1995. At sea you normally only catch a fleeting glimpse of a fin or a large flat disk before the fish dives into the ocean depths – as a result many people mistake sunfish for sharks.”

Members of the public who encounter slender sunfish on the beach or in shallow water are encouraged to contact the Aquarium immediately on telephone 021 418 3823.

See also:


blog comments powered by Disqus
  1. Lana
    Lana’s avatar
    04/02/2011 #

    Thanks so much for your post!

    I’m feeling deeply distressed after finding a Sunfish on Hout Bay beach this morning.  I threw it back into the water from the harbour wall but it didn’t swim off - it lay sideways on the surface of the sandy bottom.  I’m worried that it may not live and that I shouldn’t have thrown it into the water - perhaps I should have carried it out into deeper water and let it swim gently off. 

    Please would you advise how to treat stranded Sunfish so that others can access this info too! 

    Please contact me if I can help in any way.

    Many thanks

  2. Admin
    Admin’s avatar
    04/02/2011 #

    Thanks for your concern Lana – it’s great to know there are more caring people out there!

    The problem with these slender sunfish is that they are temperate water animals and they are out of their comfort zone in our cold waters. Generally fish are very sensitive to water temperature and if it’s not within their range (ie, if it’s too hot or too cold) it has adverse effects on their biology and their bodies can’t cope.

    The fish you found this morning could have been really weak (you don’t know how long it was lying on the beach) and chances are it wouldn’t have fared any better if you’d taken it out to deeper water.

    If you find a sunfish on the beach and it’s still alive, try and get it back in the water. But be aware that the animal may/may not make it because it depends on its overall condition.

    Once it’s back in the water, leave it alone – it is important not to stress the animal anymore than it already is.

    Thanks again for your concern.

  3. Lana
    Lana’s avatar
    04/02/2011 #

    Thank you for your quick and informative response!

    Also to everybody else I have since dealt with at the aquarium - from reception to those in the field who are on call to help…

    I went back to look for it (and others) but couldn’t find anything.

    What was rather touching was seeing the boys from Sentinel school trying to save the Sunfish this morning while doing athletics on the beach… the unsung heros if the fish survived.

    Hopefully it’s okay!

  4. Mike
    Mike’s avatar
    06/02/2011 #

    On the high tide this morning (Sunday 6 Feb 11) whilst fishing, I had hooked into kelp but managed to reel in, only to find an already dead sunfish, entangled with the kelp. The fish was about 50cm in length and probably weighed about 5kg’s. Having heard the news of these recently washing up onto the beaches (west coast), I sure hope that this was one of the last!

  5. Murray
    Murray’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    I went for a run last thursday evening on noordhoek beach and estimated there to be at least 25 sun fish washed up on Noordhoek beach. They were all the slender variety and one mola mola. Also one shark (possibly bronze whaler). Some appeared to have been washed up that day and others perhaps 4 days old at a guess.

  6. Lance
    Lance’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    Went for a walk from Kite Beach to Sunset beach on Saturday morning and counted 16 of these slender sunfish. Most of them were quite fresh as they had most of their colour and those with eyes the seagulls were eating quite quickly.

    I had a theory that during the lightning storm on Thursday evening if lightning happened to strike the water surface it could have affected these sunfish, is that at all possible ?

    I have been in the water almost every day for the last few weeks and the water temperature has been relatively warm to what it usually is.

  7. Lana
    Lana’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    How sad to hear how many have washed up.

    The Oceansunfish site says the Slender Sunfish are the rarest and most colourful of the Sunfish… you can report your findings at http://oceansunfish.org/distribution.php (to help with their research). The site is worth a visit if you’re looking for Sunfish facts, photos, poetry etc

  8. Lana
    Lana’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    Please let us know if the aquarium managed to find/save any Sunfish this weekend.


  9. Trish Richards
    Trish Richards’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    Was also most concerned about a number of juvenile sunfish washed up on the shoreline at Noordhoek beach (Long Beach) over the last few days… reported the situation to Marine and Coastal Management and have had a response from Alison Kock, of Save our Seas Foundation. I do have fairly high resolution pictures of the unfortunate creatures should you be interested.  This is a very distressing situation as they look perfectly healthy.. their big sad surprised eyes are haunting my resting hours!  I was interested to read the explanation above, as I had wondered if the pollution from the river at Hout Bay or the algae infested lake at Imhoff (Kommetjie) could have been the cause of their demise?

  10. maleen
    maleen’s avatar
    07/02/2011 #

    Walking at Sunset Beach this morning I found 6 dead sunfish over a 2 km stretch along the high tide mark. Very Sad.

  11. Jade Scully
    Jade Scully’s avatar
    10/02/2011 #

    I also saw two dead ones on Kommetjie beach this morning and found a live one too! I video’d it and put it up on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUqc9MKnm0Y
    I called your facility and the lady was very helpful saying that you had sent a team out today.

    Thanks so much and I hope he survived!!

  12. Ray
    Ray’s avatar
    10/02/2011 #

    We were walking along Noordhoek beach not last Sunday, but the Sunday before and came across one halfway along the beach. It was about 50cm in length and still alive. I picked up the fish and took it into the water up to waist height and released it. It swam off but I think it may have only had one fin on the one side as it swam on it’s side and a bit erratic. I waited about 5minutes and it did not wash back up. Maybe the fact that it was the last Sunday of January may help. Also it was around 1hr before sunset. Poor things, they look very cute.

  13. Abby
    Abby’s avatar
    03/03/2011 #

    Well done curatorial staff!  You guys are always ready to run and save the animals of our oceans.

  14. Gulam G Mahomed
    Gulam G Mahomed’s avatar
    08/03/2011 #

    Big Up to the Two Oceans Aquarium for the INFO and quick action

  15. Leon
    Leon’s avatar
    21/04/2011 #

    We were on holiday at Lambert’s Bay op 5 April 2011 when we say a dead sun fish washed up on the beach. It was about 450mm long. I took a photo. After a week of searching I found this site. Now I am sorry I did not take more pictures. The one phote is available at http://www.4shared.com/photo/GkGY5J31/DSC_0290_01.html

  16. Renee
    Renee’s avatar
    21/04/2011 #

    @Leon - The sun fish you saw is a slender sunfish like the ones described in our article above. If you would like to learn more about sunfis, have a look at http://www.oceansunfish.org.

  17. maleen hoekstra
    maleen hoekstra’s avatar
    24/11/2011 #

    I found a dead sun fish on at Sunset Beach this morning.

  18. Eva
    Eva’s avatar
    13/01/2012 #

    Found a slender sunfish in the shallows at Kommetjie beach 13/01/2012 at about 2:30pm. I managed to get it past the first breakers that kept pushing it on shore. I watched for a bit and it seemed to be fine. I do hope so:)

  19. Jules
    Jules’s avatar
    04/02/2012 #

    Have found three dead slender sunfish on the beach at paternoster on Friday 3rd feb 2012.

  20. Thomas
    Thomas’s avatar
    30/04/2012 #

    Found a slender sunfish this morning at Blouberg beach. It was dead already. With the storms coming up I’ll be on the lookout for more.