An enormous seven-foot-long hoodwinker sunfish has been found washed up on a Southern California beach.
The giant of the seas is usually found on the otherside of the world but was found beached at UC Santa Barbara's Coal Oil Point Reserve last week.
The fish is so rarely seen, it required researchers from California, Australia and New Zealand to weigh in and identify the strange-looking creature.
A sunfish that washed ashore in California has been positively identified as the newly discovered hoodwinker sunfish - thousands of miles away from where it is usually found
Thomas Turner, an associate professor in UC Santa Barbara’s ecology, evolution and marine biologist department, took photos of the sunfish along with his son
The enormous fish had only previously be sighted in the Southern Hemisphere
The fish was found washed up dead last week at UC Santa Barbara’s Coal Oil Point Reserve
'When the clear pictures came through, I thought there was no doubt. This is totally a hoodwinker,' said marine scientist Marianne Nyegaard to CNN. 'I couldn't believe it. I nearly fell out of my chair.'
Nyegaard discovered the species in 2017 and spent years searching for it before she finally found and named it.
The fish turning up in Southern California is exceptionally unusual. Until now, all of the fish have been found in the southern hemisphere including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile.
'We know it has the temperate distribution around here and off the coast of Chile, but then how did it cross the equator and turn up by you guys? It's intriguing what made this fish cross the equator,' says Nyegaard.
'The fish had gone unnoticed because no one really realized it looked different. There's a long history of confusion about the species in the sunfish family,' Nyegaard said. 'This fish had managed to stay out of sight and out of everybody's attention. It had been taken for mola mola (an ocean sunfish) so it was hoodwinking us all.'
Scientists are wondering if the fish is part of a yet undiscovered North American population or if it simply wandered away from the Australian region
How this one ended up so far out of its known range is a mystery, but the identification is considered a first crucial step
It was named the Hoodwinker Sunfish thanks to its ability to remain hidden
Close up of the clavus area, a key diagnostic feature that identifies the hoodwinker
Conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen spotted this latest find at the Coal Oil Point Reserve.
'This is certainly the most remarkable organism I have seen wash up on the beach in my four years at the reserve,' Nielsen said.
She posted pictured of the fish onto the reserve's Facebook page. When a colleagure saw the pictures, he raced down to the beach to take a look for himself.
'It's the most unusual fish you've ever seen,' said Thomas Turner, an evolutionary biologist and UC Santa Barbara associate professor. 'It has no tail. All of its teeth are fused, so it doesn't have any teeth. It's just got this big round opening for a mouth.
'To discover that it may be the first record in all of the Americas and only the second Northern Hemisphere record for the species, then I got very excited,' Turner said, stunned by the find.
Measurements of the hoodwinker sunfish’s dorsal ossicles
The species was recently discovered by Marianne Nyegaard, a scientist at Murdoch University in Australia
The fish measured some seven feet long. Plenty of photographs were taken of the rare sight
The pictures were then sent to Nyegaard, who discovered the species, and she was able to confirm their suspicions.
It's not clear how the fish came to be in North America. It could be part of a population of hoodwinkers that's yet to be discovered, or it may simply have wandered away from the Australia region where it is usually found.
'It's not uncommon for sunfish to wander really far,' Nyegaard said. 'In the future, we will understand whether this fish occurs regularly off the coast of California or whether this is a one-off.
A bizarre species of giant fish spent 130 years evading detection by scientists. It was named the Hoodwinker Sunfish, or Mola tecta, thanks to its ability to hide for so long
A Japanese research group first found genetic evidence of an unknown sunfish species in Australian waters 10 years ago.
Observers from the Australian and New Zealand longline fishery