Monday, December 3, 2012

December 2, 2012 Ocean Sunfish Stranding on First Encounter Beach

Sunday, December 2, 2012 

Photo by Michael Webster. 
On Saturday, December 1, 2012 Michael Webster stopped by Mass Audubon at Wellfleet Bay to report a dead ocean sunfish a mile or so south of Thumpertown Beach in Eastham, MA. With the help of Mass Audubon, Michael got connected to NECWA by calling Krill and providing detailed information about this stranding to her directly. 

The next day, Krill and Lauren Tauer, a Biology Senior at Bridgewater State University (BSU), headed down to Eastham in the hopes of relocating this carcass.  Melissa from Mass Audubon lives in the Eastham area and kindly offered to look for the carcass early in the morning. With her trusty dogs, she has 3, Melissa scoured some of the beaches in the area, but was not able to find the carcass. But Melissa did contact someone who had seen the carcass that morning so she was able to get us connected!

Lauren with the ocean sunfish carcass. 
This semester Lauren has been working in the lab at BSU on an aging project for ocean sunfish. Under the direction of Dr. John Jahoda and Professor Carson (Krill), Lauren is attempting to age ocean sunfish using banding patterns in their vertebra. 

Lauren working to get the straps under the carcass. 
Lauren finally had a chance to get out of the lab and see an ocean sunfish first hand. With the help of Melissa, they found this animal just a bit north of First Encounter Beach. The carcass had moved over the course of the night, probably due to the rise and fall of the tide and the prevailing currents. 

Lauren standing next to NECWA's weighing tripod. 
This ocean sunfish turned out to be a male that was approximately 6 feet in length and weighed close to 300 lbs. Although that might seem like a large fish, this individual is probably only a few years old. Adult ocean sunfish can grow to be 8 to 10 feet long and weigh over 2 tons.

Lauren taking the tripod apart. 
Lauren did a great job and really enjoyed the experience. She is a fabulous field biologist for she never complained a second and worked really hard through difficult conditions. Not only did it rain intermittently during the morning hours, but the tide was rising making it difficult to access the carcass.

Krill cutting into the mouth to examine the throat. 
Pharyngeal teeth of the ocean sunfish. Helps to keep the jellyfish down. 
Lauren working on the carcass as the tide is rising. 
NECWA staff love to provide budding scientists like Lauren with these types of experiences and opportunities in the field of marine biology. And we greatly appreciate their help especially given the large number of ocean sunfish carcasses that we have necropsied this season. This ocean sunfish carcass makes #24 for the season, which is a record number of carcasses for us!