Sunfish Encounter In Resort Has Happy Ending

OCEAN CITY — For the
second time in as many weeks, a rare sea creature found itself far from home in
the coastal bays west of Ocean City, but the odd encounter had a happy ending
this time around.

Local resident Butch
Kitts said that last Friday morning he walked outside his residence just off
Robin Drive to find what he later learned was a 300-pound sunfish wedged
underneath his dock.

“I wasn’t sure what
it was at first because it must have been six feet wide and it didn’t have a
tail, but it had these two huge fins,” said Kitts. “He was lying flat on his
side because there wasn’t enough water for him to swim out to open water and
free himself.”
What commenced was a several-hour-long marathon of trying to free the fish,
which is usually found in temperate or tropical waters in the Atlantic and
Pacific oceans.

“We thought we had
freed him in the morning, but he just kind of stayed in the canal for a few
hours until we lost sight of him at about 1 p.m.,” said Kitts. “Then around 2
o’clock these two fellas found the fish nesting near their boat up the canal a
ways. I was just pacing back and forth up and down the docks trying to help
this thing get out of that canal.”

Department of Natural Resources (DNR), animal control and police officials, as
well as a handful of spectators, had congregated near the canal and watched as
two men waded the fish out to deeper waters.

“Once they got him
out to open water where it was deep enough for him to turn over off of his
side, he just took off and that was the last we saw of him,” said Kitts.

Earlier in the day,
Councilman Joe Hall’s daughter noticed the sunfish swimming north in the bay
overlooking his downtown home.

“She thought that it
was a dolphin, but once I got the binoculars out, I realized that it was a
sunfish because their long fins almost look like a dorsal fin when they are
swimming along,” said Hall. “Oddly enough I was just talking to a guy about all
the weird ocean creatures that have been showing up in the bay, and he told me
he remembered seeing a sunfish in the bay 20 years ago.”

Ocean Sunfish, or
Mola Mola, are the heaviest known bony fish in the world, averaging almost

2,000 pounds, and is known for its lack of a caudal fin, which through evolution was replaced by a rounded

clavus, creating the body’s distinct shape. The main body is flattened
laterally, giving it a long oval shape when seen head-on. The pectoral fins are
small and fan-shaped. However, the dorsal fin and the anal fin are lengthened,
often making the fish as tall as it is long.

“It’s an odd looking
fish for sure, and although it’s not unheard of for a sunfish to end up in
these waters, they certainly aren’t supposed to be in the bay,” said Hall, an
avid fisherman.

Fortunately, the
sunfish found its way out of harm’s way, but its interaction with humans makes
it the fourth unusual sighting of an out-of-habitat aquatic creature in two

Last week, a
Gervais’ beaked whale was found on a sand spit in the Assawoman Bay in uptown
Ocean City and eventually had to be euthanized and was so rare in fact, that
scientists from the Smithsonian took the whale to Washington DC for research.

In March, two huge
humpback whales washed ashore in Ocean City and Fenwick Island. Scientists seem
to indicate that the humpback whales could have been struck by a ship while the
beaked whale, which is known for diving deep into the ocean abyss for long
periods of time, might have been thrown off by active sonar exercises from
military submarines.

Hall believes that
climate change certainly is playing a part in the out of habitat occurrences,
but noted that it might be something else altogether.

“The sunfish may
have followed a warm water current and then got discombobulated when it hit the
cold waters of the bay, but it might be a case that there are just more of
these fish out there now as a result of all the efforts to conserve and
preserve aquatic life,” Hall said.

Either way, Kitts
was happy that this fish tale had a happy ending.

“I just remember
looking at this thing in its eye, which was about 2 inches in diameter,” said
Kitts. “It was kind of scary when it looked at you, but I was happy that we got
the thing out of harm’s way, and headed back to where he’s supposed to be.”