Giant sunfish surfaces at Te Papa

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 13:14 19/02/2014
MAARTEN HOLL/FAIRFAX NZ

The last time Sunny 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.

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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,'' Stewart said.

Sunny 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.

Sunny Bill's gender remains undetermined - little is known about sunfish anatomy - but 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 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'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 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,'' Stewart said.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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