Cape Town - Following the release of ‘celebrity’ loggerhead turtle Yoshi, Two Oceans Aquarium's resident ocean sunfish - who has been affectionately called Holy Moly – was released in the ocean off Robben Island on 30 January 2018.
Holy Moly was rescued by the aquarium staff in December 2017, after it was discovered trapped in the nearby V&A Waterfront harbour.
“The harbour had been particularly busy during the summer, and this young sunfish likely became disorientated. It had been observed in the marina for a number of days and we were concerned that it was distressed and at risk of being injured by a boat,” says Two Oceans Aquarium.
ALSO SEE: PICS: Yoshi the loggerhead turtle gets freedom as Christmas present
Holy Moly was cleared of parasites after being rescued and the staff ensured that it was not dehydrated or suffering any other ailment. The sunfish became a temporary resident in the Predator Exhibit, described by the aquarium as “a gentle giant among the sharks and giant kob that it came to coexist with”.
“We had since seen an increase in the sunfish's appetite, and the energy and curiosity with which it explored the Predator Exhibit, and were confident that it was in good health,” said the aquarium about knowing it was time to be released.
Transporting a giant fish
For a successful release, the Aquarium's dive team strapped Holy Moly into a protective harness and “moved it quickly into the water of the holding tank on our boat”, says Two Oceans Aquarium.
This holding tank has life support systems intended to keep fish alive and comfortable during transport. “The seas were a little choppy and we took care to ensure that the sunfish stayed calm and did not bump the sides of the tank,” adds the Aquarium.
“The weather was overcast, the waters were murky - perfect conditions for a sunfish to find its bearings after this stressful process,” says the aquarium, who added that they also took a DNA sample for international research collaboration on conservation of ocean sunfish.
There’s certainly much preparation before releasing the fish into the ocean as the aquarium’s dive team also had to adjust the water temperature in the holding tank to that of the ocean before releasing Holy Moly.
Check it out:
Ocean sunfish as listed as vulnerable to extinction by the IUCN - the same classification as polar bears, pandas and cheetahs, warns Two Oceans Aquarium
“In South Africa alone, over 340 000 are killed as bycatch in a year, yet few people have even heard of them,’ says the aquarium which is committed to ensuring the conservation of ocean wildlife.
“Holy Moly was not the first sunfish to find a temporary home in our exhibits, and we are grateful that we've had another incredible opportunity to learn and grow alongside this ocean ambassador,” it adds.
1. The name sunfish
Sunfish got its name because it rises up towards the surface of the ocean and lies on its side in order to gain body warmth - scientist speculate this may be the method in which it gains energy. They are also known as 'Mola' - in Latin this means 'millstone' - due to its circular shape. When they are born they are 1 mm small - as small as a pinhead! It is a natural wonder how they grow in size from 1 mm to up to 4 metres long!
The ocean sunfish can be as long as 4 metres - which is as long as the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
It is the biggest bony fish in the world, meaning that the skeleton of the fish is mainly made up of bone tissue and not cartilage.
Ocean sunfish will swim over 153 metres into the depth of the ocean in order to feed - they are known to be omnivores. Feeding on jellyfish, zooplankton and algae.
5. Body structure
They do not have tails compared to other fish - they use their fins that are located on the top and bottom in order to slowly move through the ocean depths. They’re relatively slow and are unable to close their mouths fully - leaving them with a constant gaping expression.
These fish are known to be prehistoric and are over 45 million years old!
7. Life of sunfish
As babies the ocean sunfish will swim around in a school of fish but as they become adults they are loners.
Female ocean sunfish can lay over 300 million eggs.
The population of ocean sunfish are currently under threat as it is declining. Many sunfish are dying due to ocean pollution as they mistake plastic bags for jellyfish which causes suffocation.
What about Yoshi the loggerhead turtle?
Yoshi was fitted with a satellite tag upon release, and according to Two Oceans Aquarium on 28 January Yoshi entered Namibian waters.
“Currently she is about 71km north-west of the Orange River, and about 15km offshore in very nice 19°C water with a depth of about 113m,” says the aquarium, adding that her swimming speed is 1.19km per hour “which is well within the normal range for wild as well as released loggerhead turtles”.
Check out Yoshi’s journey:
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