A few days ago my husband Harry Cerino and I had never heard of an Ocean Sunfish. Harry saw one for the first time when he was taking photographs off of Wellfleet town pier and a fisherman told him what it was. We had never seen a fish swimming the distinctive way that Sunfish did.
No one was around during this off-season time and we felt alone and helpless. I first called Wellfleet Audubon but the director wasn’t there and it felt like there wasn’t time to wait for a call back. Audubon gave me some other numbers to try and I next left a message with Krill Carson (who I learned was an expert on Sunfish) and then spoke with someone from IFAW Marine Mammal Stranding and at the Wellfleet Harbor Master office. They said once it got beached and was out of water it was unlikely that there was anything that could be done. This was discouraging to hear. We did not want to give up on this poor living creature and had run out of people to call.
Fortunately Krill called back in just a few minutes. She said based on my description it was a young fish (but it must have weighed a few hundred pounds), that we should definitely try to push it out into open waters, and that we needed to act fast. Her encouragement made all the difference to us. Krill told me to try to find some gloves to get a better grip on its slimy skin and that it wouldn’t hurt us. It was on its side, barely covered with water, flapping it fins but not able to get free from the sand. It was about a 15 minute struggle but we finally dislodged the fish and pushed it into water we thought was deep enough. But it still wasn’t enough for it to right itself and even when we got it out further it was still horizontal. So we kept pushing it deeper and deeper until finally it could get vertical.
Once in that position it floated there for a while barely under the surface. Its large sad eye stared at us. Finally it became more aware that it was in deeper water. In another moment or two it flapped it fins and swam off. We watched its dorsal fin as it rounded back around the jetty. The only thing that we could do was clap and cheer as it swam off into Wellfleet Bay. No one saw what we had done and we were encouraged on by a disembodied voice on our mobile phone but it all felt quite wonderful.
Jan Albaum and Harry Cerino