This sunfish (Mola mola) was captured in Napier Harbour in May 1895 and purchased for the Wanganui Public Museum. Samuel Drew, the founder of the Museum, and local anthropologist Charles Smith, travelled to Napier to collect it, finding on their arrival it had been dead for a week! Drew, assisted by three others, took three days to skin the fish. He described this as “a most unpleasant task... [the skin] a hard gristly substance that very quickly turned the edges of the sharpest knives, blistering our hands that had already been made sore by the cutting roughness of the skin.”
The fish had been badly mutilated by its captors and souvenir hunters. So many pieces were missing that Drew could only mount one side of the specimen, patching this side with pieces from the other. It measured twelve feet (3.6 metres) from tip of fin to tip of fin and was found to be full of parasites.
Sunfish roam the open sea, relying on wind and waves to carry them from place to place. They are often driven ashore at high tide and left helpless at the ebb. Such was the fate of this specimen.
The ocean sunfish resembles a fish head with a tail. Its caudal fin is replaced by a rounded clavus, creating the body's distinct shape. The main body is flattened, 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.