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Rare fish first documented in 2017 off New Zealand turns up on California beach. How?

Coal Oil Point Reserve posted this photon Facebook Feb. 19 of the 7-foot-fish hoodwinker sunfish. Facebook screenshot
Coal Oil Point Reserve posted this photon Facebook Feb. 19 of the 7-foot-fish hoodwinker sunfish. Facebook screenshot

A strange-looking 7-foot fish that washed up at southern California’s Coal Oil Point Reserve has been identified as a rare species that “has never before been observed in the Northern Hemisphere,” according to the University of California at Santa Barbara.

It’s called a hoodwinker sunfish and was just documented by scientists for the first time in 2017, says UCSB’s science and technology web page The Current.

The Coal Oil Point Reserve, which is part of the University of California, posted photos of the discovery on Feb. 19 and mistakenly identified it as a common type of sunfish. However, experts from New Zealand and Australia suspected otherwise and used photos to confirm it was a much more unexpected find, said the reserve on its Facebook page.

National Geographic reported in 2017 that the first examples of the species — officially called Mola tecta — had washed up on a beach in New Zealand in 2014.

Experts unveiled their discovery three years later in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, describing it as a new sunfish “hiding in broad daylight.” National Geographic summed the hookwinker up as a “slimmer and sleeker” version of a sunfish, minus the “lumps, bumps or a snout.”

UCSB reported in The Current that an intern first reported a “stranded sunfish” at the reserve. However, photos posted on the reserve’s Facebook page soon began to draw national attention and eventually found their way to sunfish expert Marianne Nyegaard, of Murdoch University in Australia, said the reserve.

She is the one who discovered the hoodwinker, and she confirmed the fish was an example of the newly discovered species, said the university.

Biologists have not said what killed the fish, but Coal Oil Point Reserve says more than a dozen samples of the body were saved for research, including “multiple bags of tapeworm-laden mucous that dripped from the intestines during dissection.”

Sand tiger sharks in North Carolina and along the broader east coast of the USA help track shark movement and behavior over time.

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Mark Price has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1991, covering beats including schools, crime, immigration, the LGBTQ issues, homelessness and nonprofits. He graduated from the University of Memphis with majors in journalism and art history, and a minor in geology.
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