Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ocean Sunfish Level A Examination - North Truro, MA

On September 15th, IFAW's Marine Mammal Rescue team received a call from Tom about a dead ocean sunfish that washed ashore on a beach in North Truro. Tom works for Kalmar Village, a beautiful and quaint group of cottages that sit right along the beach area in North Truro. Tom found this ocean sunfish carcass when he was walking along the water's edge.

Krill and Dominica headed down to examine this carcass the next day, but were not able to connect with Tom. So they returned on the 18th and worked with Tom, his wife Casey and their assistant Andy. Tom had pulled the sunfish up above the high tide line to make sure that it didn't wash away before Krill and Dominica could examine it. This was wonderful in the sense that the carcass was not going to refloat itself on the next high tide. But it also meant that the carcass had been festering under a blue tarp for a few days.

If you have ever been around an ocean sunfish carcass, you can attest to the fact that they stink more than any other fish. And this one was a beauty!

Because the carcass was pretty decomposed, Krill was only able to conduct a Level A Examination. This involves collecting body measurements, skin/muscle tissue and vertebra for age determination studies. It also allows researchers to determine the sex of the sunfish and this big fella was a boy!

But the carcass was too decomposed to even attempt a full necrospy or animal autopsy. So after the Level A Examination was over, Tom hitched the blue tarp up to the truck and towed it out to the tidal flats so the carcass could float away. Krill opened the carcass up so scavengers like gulls could get at the yummy body parts like the liver and intestines. Not much else you can do with a 6 foot carcass. No one wants the carcass and they are very difficult to bury unless they are taken apart during necropsy activities.

To make sure this carcass can be identified in the future, if it were ever to wash ashore again, Krill attached a pink tie cable through the dorsal fin. If anyone sees this carcass, please report its location immediately to Krill. Email her at or call her cell at 508-566-0009.

A BIG thank you to Dominica for helping Krill chase down this elusive carcass as well as assisting with the Level A Examination. And thanks for putting up with the awful smell as Dominica had to ride home in Krill's Camery after the sunfish bones had been baking in the car for two hours. The smell was so bad that as Krill and Dominica drove back to Plymouth that evening, the car windows had to be open or else the smell would have consumed both driver and passenger. And Dominica had to keep spraying Fabriz in the car to try and combat the smell. Boy does NECWA need a truck for this kind of work!

NECWA also sends a BIG thank you to Tom, Casey and Andy for all their help and support. This examination would not have been possible without their efforts and time. Each sunfish, alive or dead, provides valuable information that is helping biologists and researchers better understand the ocean sunfish, a strange and amazing fish that feeds off Cape Cod each summer and fall. Not too many people could have put up with the stench from this carcass, but Tom, Casey and Andy were not deterred from helping in any way. Our hats are off to you guys!