Biggest in the World? Fishermen Discover a Fish as Big as a Chevy Suburban

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: February 22, 2023
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Key Points

  • In December 2021, a fisherman in the Azores archipelago found a dead sunfish weighing three tons.
  • They had to use a crane to weigh and measure the fish!
  • The giant fish was 10.6 feet long and weighed 6,050 pounds.
  • This fish broke the world record set in 1996 by a 2.5-ton sunfish.

Fish are one of the species in the world with the most diversity. These aquatic animals come in different shapes, colors, and skeletal compositions. Some are endemic to freshwater habitats, and others to saltwater dwellers. Fish species can be as tiny as several milligrams and can be as massive as 40,000 pounds.

According to news reports, a fisherman in the Azores archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean discovered a fish the size of a Chevy Suburban. Though this fish was dead by the time it was found, a team of scientists from Portugal helped bring the giant fish out of the water to measure it. It turned out to be a world record holder. Let’s meet the Bumphead sunfish, which might be the biggest of its species in the world.

Meet the Bumphead Sunfish: The Biggest Bony Fish in the World

Bumphead sunfish
The Bumphead sunfish is the largest living bony fish in the world.

©Photo by Erik van der Goot, used with permission, provided to FishBase by Marianne Nyegaard / CC BY-SA 4.0 – License

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According to the Australian Museum, the largest living bony fish in the world is the Bumphead sunfish. Bumphead sunfish go by many names. They are known as southern sunfish, short sunfish, Ramsay’s sunfish, and even southern ocean sunfish. This is because they are found everywhere in the world excluding the Arctic and Antarctic. Luckily, their scientific name Mola alexandrine stays the same.

The Bumphead sunfish pulled out of the Atlantic was 10.6 feet long and 6,050 pounds heavy. While sunfishes are the heaviest bony fish in the world, the Bumphead is the largest. 

Why Are They Called Sunfish?

Sunfish didn’t get their names accidentally. They are sunbathers that depend on the sun’s warm rays to regulate their body temperature. They especially need to do this after they hunt, and the reason is nothing short of intriguing.

One of the most reoccurring items on the Bumphead sunfish’s menu is the jellyfish. While jellyfishes have low nutritional value, there are lots of them, which reduces the chances of a sunfish dying of starvation due to food scarcity.

Bumphead sunfish also eat small fish, algae, plankton, and even mollusks. They may also eat crustaceans, salps, and hydrozoans. These fish are active predators and spend a lot of their time in deep waters hunting for food. Sunfish have been spotted up to 200 meters deep into the water. However, these deep waters are often extremely chilly, especially at night, when the sun no longer shines.

Consequently, sunfish only hunt during the day when they can get back to the surface for the sun to warm them up after their freezing hunts. At night, these fish rest and wait for the sun or scavenge the warmer parts of their habitats for food.

What Do Bumphead Sunfish Look Like?

Bumphead sunfish
Bumphead sunfish have rectangular body scales and about 14 to 24 fin rays.

©Henry Barnes Snr / Australian Museum / public domain – License

Bumphead sunfish look quite similar to other species of sunfish, such as the ocean sunfish, hoodwinker sunfish, and slender sunfish. However, some distinguishable features of the Bumphead sunfish set it apart from its relatives. First, they have an odd head with a bump and also have a bump on their chins, which gave rise to their name. Other distinguishing features they have are their rectangular body scales and about 14 to 24 fin rays.

Bumpheads also look a lot like pufferfish, which are one of the most poisonous fish in the world. For this reason, the two species are often confused with each other, and some wrongly deem the sunfish poisonous. However, Bumphead sunfish are not poisonous or dangerous to humans. Despite this, they may still pose a threat because of their size.

According to the Australian Museum, one of the ways that this happens is by bumping into ships. In 1998, the staff of the museum sailed to examine a sunfish that had been stuck on a cement carrier. After the fish was removed, it got stuck again on yet another ship and managed to slow the ship’s speed from 14 to 11 knots.

In addition, the sunfish’s skin was so rough that it wore off all the paint on the side of the boat it was stuck to. Authorities state that it weighed about 3,000 pounds, which is largely below the maximum weight the species can attain.

Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola swimming underwater with divers. They are considered to be fairly docile and gentle around human divers.
Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, are considered to be fairly docile and gentle around human divers.

©Martin Voeller/Shutterstock.com

Do Sunfish Normally Get This Big?

Sunfish are normally big. The average length of the body is 5 feet 11 inches. If you measure from fin to fin, the average length is 8 feet 2 inches. They typically weigh between 545 and 2,205 pounds.

Lifespan

In captivity, an ocean sunfish lives for around ten years. The lifespan of a wild ocean sunfish is unknown. We do know a lot about their growth rate, however. They increase in weight from 50 pounds to nearly 900 pounds in only 15 months!

Ocean sunfish or Mola mola have small mouths and large eyes on their massive heads.
Ocean sunfish or Mola mola have small mouths and large eyes on their massive heads.

©Anna K Mueller/Shutterstock.com

What Animals Live in the Azores Archipelago?

The Azores is a remote area in Europe. It is home to many marine mammals, like whales and dolphins. There are several species of whales in the Azores, including pilot, sperm, and false killer whales. You may also see hammerhead sharks, flying fish, swordfish, or blue marlins.

If you are looking for other mammals, you can see the Azores Noctule bat and the European hedgehog in this area.

Bird lovers are in for a treat. There are northern goshawks, eagles, buzzards, bullfinches, and many more!

As far as reptiles, you may spot a loggerhead turtle or a leatherback turtle on the shore of the Azores.

What Is the Largest Bony Fish Ever?

3-D Rendered Illustration of Leedsichthys in Water
The largest bony fish ever is the Leedsichthys problematicus.

©SciePro/Shutterstock.com

Several living animals had relatives that experienced gigantism during the Age of Dinosaurs. Fishes have been around for quite a long time and have evolved, reaching different sizes and having different adaptations. According to reports, the oldest fish in the world lived about 500 million years ago. However, the largest bony fish did not come to be until 165 million years ago, during the later parts of the Jurassic Period.

The largest bony fish ever is the Leedsichthys problematicus. The giant fish weighed about 45 tons and reached about 55 feet at maturity. This fish was bigger than even the Megalodon. Leedsichthys problematicus, like the whale and the basking shark, was a filter feeder and was a docile sea monster.

What Is the Largest Fish in the World?

What do Whale Sharks Eat - Whale Shark Filter Feeding
The largest fish in the world is the whale shark.

©Fata Morgana by Andrew Marriott/Shutterstock.com

When arguments about the largest fish in the world are made, many assume the title belongs to whales. However, the blue whale is not a fish but a whale, and as you might know, whales are mammals. Thus, the blue whale holds the title of the largest surviving animal worldwide.

The title doesn’t belong to the sunfish, either. While it is large, it still pales in comparison to the largest fish in the world, the whale shark. And no, the whale shark isn’t a whale. Sharks don’t have any bones in their bodies but have cartilage instead. Since the whale shark has cartilage and no bone, it is classified as a shark. This fish can grow as long as 33 feet and weigh as much as 41,887 pounds!

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The Featured Image

The Bumphead sunfish is the largest living bony fish in the world
The Bumphead sunfish is the largest living bony fish in the world
© Jan_uw/Shutterstock.com

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Sources
  1. Australian Museum, Available here: https://australian.museum/learn/animals/fishes/bump-head-sunfish-mola-alexandrini/
  2. Research Gate, Available here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/321531916_Redescription_of_the_bump-head_sunfish_Mola_alexandrini_Ranzani_1839_senior_synonym_of_Mola_ramsayi_Giglioli_1883_with_designation_of_a_neotype_for_Mola_mola_Linnaeus_1758_Tetraodontiformes_Molidae
  3. The Conservation, Available here: https://theconversation.com/the-oldest-fish-in-the-world-lived-500-million-years-ago-27710
  4. Guinness World Records, Available here: https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/90315-largest-fish-ever