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Massive Sunfish


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Massive sunfish

When two Macquarie University academics sighted a fin poking through the water on NSW's south coast they suspected they were in for an encounter with a massive shark.

Called to investigate an oil spill at Jervis Bay, they were travelling by boat to the scene when the large dorsal protrusion appeared before their eyes, instantly demanding their attention.

But instead of a shark the fin turned out to belong to something far more wonderful - a remarkably large sunfish, big enough to fill a room and weighing perhaps 1.5 tonnes.

Quickly donning snorkels and masks the men plunged in water, capturing these images of the fish as it happily ambled along at human swimming pace.

Discussion with colleagues have failed to turn up an account of a larger sunfish ever sighted off the NSW coast.

''This one one was pretty much as big as they get,'' director of Marine Science at Macquarie University, Associate Professor Rob Harcourt said.

Dr Harcourt captured the images of the fish swimming with honours student Mathew Kertesz on December 8 last year in about 40 metres of water near the entrance to Jervis Bay.

Mr Kertesz, who stands about 185 cm tall and weighed 105 kg at the time the picture was taken, was dwarfed by the fish.

''When it first appeared Matt said 'Oh my god! A huge shark.','' Dr Harcourt said.

''Its eyeball was bigger than my fist.''

A regular diver off the NSW coast, Dr Harcourt said sunfish sightings were relatively rare.

Their fins poking through the water are often mistaken for sharks and they can prove a hazard to boats competing in the Sydney to Hobart yacht race.

Mr Kertesz has recently been made the Australasian Rolex Scholar 2007/2008, an award fostering the development of future marine environment leaders.




Edited by MallacootaPete
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