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Sunfish washes up on Rehoboth Bay farm

December 3, 2018

John Burton said it’s the weirdest damn thing he’s ever seen.

Along the shore of his Rehoboth Bay farm Nov. 28 was a large gray fish, lying dead on the sand by the private road, several yards from the bay.

“He must’ve washed up on high tide,” Burton said.

The fish looks like an ocean sunfish, better known by its scientific name mola mola, said Delaware Department of Natural Resources Division of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Administrator John Clark.

“While not a common occurrence, they have washed up on Delaware beaches in the past, and we have had several live and dead molas spotted by boaters out in the ocean,” Clark said. “They are the heaviest bony fish in the world and can exceed a ton in weight.”

At 5-foot-6-inches long and 6-foot-3-inches from dorsal to anal fin, the fish was roughly the size of Burton. Clark said larger specimens can reach 14 feet vertically, 10 feet horizontally and weigh up to 5,000 pounds.

“Mola” means millstone in Latin, which describes its round shape. Found in temperate and tropical oceans, the fish derives its common name from its tendency to bask in the sun on the water’s surface.

With the sunfish’s population decreasing, it has been labeled vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.