Saturday, December 4, 2010

Ocean Sunfish Stranding, Cole Road Beach, Eastham on Dec. 03, 2010

Today, Krill and Tammy (one of our NECWA interns) met Steve down at Cole Road Beach in Eastham to find an ocean sunfish carcass that Steve had recently reported to NEBShark (New England Basking Shark Project at This season, NECWA staff and interns have responded to over 20 reports of dead ocean sunfish that have stranded on Cape Cod beaches. Although we haven't been able to find every carcass that was reported, we have documented each sighting in our database.

Assisting with ocean sunfish Level A (external exam) and necropsy (internal exam) activities is a great learning experience for Tammy and the many other NECWA interns who are involved in this research project. This was Tammy's second ocean sunfish stranding and she was able to conduct most of the Level A examination (photo-documentation and body measuring) as well as assist Krill with the necropsy.

This ocean sunfish did not have a thick layer of reticulated collagen under the skin. The thickness of this tissue may directly relate to the overall health of the animal. Tammy and Krill were able to sex this animal which turned out to be a small male. Right now, it is close to a 50/50 ratio between female ocean sunfish and males.

Although this fish appeared healthy, its death is a reminder that this species has a difficult time dealing with cold water temperatures. Ocean sunfish are a warm water species that migrates into our productive waters to feed on jellyfish, ctenophores and other gelatinous critters. In the fall, many sunfish stay in our area too long, possibly fooled by the warmer waters of Cape Cod Bay. Or they may become trapped in the inner elbow of the Cape finding it impossible to navigate south.

We thank Steve for reporting this carcass to us and for keeping track of it for a number of days until we could get down to the Eastham area. We rely very heavily on Cape residents who walk the beaches on a regular basis. They become our eyes and ears and they allow us to respond to a large number of ocean sunfish strandings each season.

Thanks again Steve and all our supporters. Your efforts are helping NECWA collect the largest database on ocean sunfish in the northwestern Atlantic.