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Massive sunfish washes up near mouth of the Murray River in South Australia

Mitch Mott and Donna Coutts, March 19, 2019 6:45PM The Advertiser

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Hunter and Steven Jones with the sunfish they found on the Coorong, SA. Picture: Jacob Jones media_cameraHunter and Steven Jones with the sunfish they found on the Coorong, SA. Picture: Jacob Jones


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A group of friends on a fishing trip to the mouth of the Murray River in South Australia has accidentally stumbled across one of the world’s biggest fish.

Their find was the body of a sunfish, 2.5m long and weighing hundreds of kilograms.

From a distance they thought it was a big rock but as they moved closer they realised it was a fish.

Fish expert Ralph Forster from the South Australian Museum identified this sunfish for Kids News as an example of the mola mola species of sunfish, which is extremely rare where it was found.

The friends found the sunfish in the shallows north of Tea Tree Crossing in the Coorong on Saturday afternoon. The Coorong is a rich ecosystem* of wetlands and lagoons between the Murray River and the Great Australian Bight, which is part of the Southern Ocean.

Clay Bowman, 22, from Millicent, SA, was one of the fishermen.

“We thought it was a rock at first but one of the guys who is crazy about fishing went to check it out and came back and said it was a sunfish,” Mr Bowman said.

“I had certainly not seen anything like it and some of the guys who have been fishing for years had also never seen a sunfish washed up on shore.”

Found and photographed by Jacob Jones & Craig Tarry. Images used with permission. media_cameraTwo of the friends with the ocean sunfish. Picture: Jacob Jones and Craig Tarry

Mr Forster said it was not known how it died, as from the photographs it looked in good condition. Mola mola like eating jellyfish and he said they have been known to mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, which is a possible cause of death.

Sunfish are among the world’s heaviest fish, weighing between 250kg and 1000kg.

They are seen in tropical and temperate* waters around the world.

They love to sunbathe and spend hours each day close to the surface of the water.

The family of species is considered as vulnerable* to extinction in the wild but is also considered a delicacy* to eat in countries including Korea, Japan and Taiwan.

Polynesian culture regards eating sunfish as bad luck.

There are four species of sunfish. Mola mola are sometimes called ocean sunfish or common sunfish, but they are rarely seen where this fish was found.

The sunfish is installed into the Australian Museum in Sydney in 1888, where it was a source of wonder and amazement for many years, and will be again, at the 2012 Deep Oceans exhibition. media_cameraOcean sunfish (mola mola), caught off Sydney in 1882, ready to be lifted through a window in an upper floor of the Australian Museum in Sydney, NSW, in 1888. The almost-2.5-metre front door was too small to fit the fish through.

Sunfish are predators that eat small fish, squid, crustaceans* and jellyfish.

In German, they are called schwimmender kopf, which is “swimming head”. In Polish, they are called samogłów, which means “head alone”.

Whale sharks are the world’s biggest fish. They can grow to more than 12m long and weigh more than 21 tonnes.

VIDEO: A whale shark swam beside this spear fisherman for half an hour of the coast of Florida, US, last year. Video: Mike Ross via Storyful

Basking sharks, great white sharks and tiger sharks are the next biggest fish species, followed by giant oceanic manta rays. Mola mola or ocean sunfish are the sixth biggest fish species in the world.

Whales and dolphins are not fish, but mammals. Blue whales are the biggest whale species and can grow up to almost 30m long and weigh about 173 tonnes. Orcas are the biggest dolphin species.

media_cameraDiver with a whale shark in the Ningaloo Marine Park off the coast of Western Australia. Picture: Tourism Western Australia


  • ecosystem: a community of living things
  • temperate: mild; cooler than tropical and not as cold as Antarctica
  • vulnerable: at risk
  • delicacy: for special occasions
  • crustaceans: shellfish, including crabs, krill, prawns


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  1. The Murray River flows into the sea in which state?
  2. How long was the sunfish they found?
  3. Describe the Coorong. Where is it?
  4. Which people like to eat sunfish and which don’t?
  5. List the six biggest fish species in order from the biggest.


1. Fish Species Diagram
Create a diagram to represent all the information about the size of different species of fish contained in the Kids News article.

A diagram is a structured, visual representation of key information, therefore you need to include some illustrations and only the key points about each species and represent their order of size compared to other species of fish.

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

2. Extension
Create a Venn diagram comparing the similarities and differences between mammals and fish.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

With a partner see if you can identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: What is your favourite fish or ocean mammal? Why?

No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. Comments will not show until approved by editors.

Extra Reading in animals