Giant sunfish surfaces at Te Papa

04:15, Feb 19 2014
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RARE FIND: Te Papa collections managers Tom Schultz and Andrew Stewart, with research technician Jeremy Barker (right) and the sharp-tailed sunfish at Te Papa's Tory St complex.

The last time Sunny Bill saw the light of day he was being dissected. Now the 240kg sharp-tailed sunfish has taken his place in Te Papa's marine specimen collection.

After six months preserved in a bath of formaldehyde, the fish was lifted from its crate today and joined Te Papa's huge library of marine specimens on Tory St.

Collections managers Andrew Stewart and Tom Schultz were pleased to find Sunny Bill was in good condition.

''It's absolutely beautifully preserved,'' Mr Stewart said.

Sunny Bill washed ashore north of Auckland in May last year. Those who found him tried to get the rare ocean giant to float back out to sea but he died shortly afterwards.

Researchers from Auckland Museum and Te Papa collected him and took him to Wellington, where an autopsy was performed.

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Sunny Billf's gender remains undetermined - little is known about sunfish anatomy - but Mr Stewart believes he/she is a male.

Good specimens of sunfish are rare - and sharp-tailed sunfish even more so.

''This is a nine and a half out of ten,'' he said. It was only the second collected in his 30 years of work.

Sunny Bill would not be joining the colossal squid on public display in Te Papa any time soon, he said. The cost of constructing a special tank for the sunfish would have to be met by a sponsor, and the museum had to weigh up Sunny Bill's value as an exhibit against his worth as a research specimen.

It would not be possible to preserve him in alcohol - the amount needed would be impossible in a public space - which meant glycol would have to be used, as with the squid.

However, the long-term effect of preserving a specimen in glycol is unknown - it could make Sunny Bill disintegrate the moment he was taken out of it.

Preserving him in a sealed tank full of alcohol, along with other flat fish like rays, meant he could be studied by future generations.

''It could last 200-300 years,'' Mr Stewart said.

The Dominion Post