"Sizes of large fish are often cited in various levels of literature, but on closer examination or investigation it is often very difficult to verify that a fish was actually measured, or weighed," he said. "Often someone at the time will make a guess, or guesstimate, that will enter the lexicon."
Pepperell does not doubt the length measurements of the SS Fiona specimen as they were quoted by Stead. But he notes that the weight measurements only come from The Wide World Magazine article, which reports the fish as having been weighed on the company weigh bridge.
"Now it may well be that Stead was unaware of this, but as noted, this seems unlikely," said Pepperell. "Magazine articles are not scientific accounts, whereas Stead was a scientist."
According to Thys, the uncertainty on the true weight of the SS Fiona mola gives the specimen from Kamogawa a shot at being the heaviest.
"We know how and when and who weighed it, so there is less ambiguity in terms of its recorded [size]," said Thys. "It is certainly at least as heavy if not heavier than the Fiona mola."
Big Ocean Fish
Thys suspects that neither of these two specimens in question is the largest ocean sunfish caught or to be caught in the future. In her research, she has found citations for several mola that were quite large in length but not weighed in a reliable manner.
For example, she cites a specimen reported by Keiichi Matsuura at the Fish Division of the National Science Museum in Tokyo caught on August 8, 1999. It measured 3.25 meters (10.7 feet) long.
"It weighed more than two tons (1.8 metric tons). But the exact weight is not clear because the specimen was too heavy to be measured at the fishing port and was skinned immediately after it was landed on the port," said Thys.
Pepperell does not think the ocean is teeming with huge sunfish for the simple reason that the really big ones are likely quite old and therefore there are not as many of them compared to younger sunfish.
"It's a bit like looking at how many people there are in the world who are older than, say, 105 or 110. Not many, even though the world's population is over six billion," he said.
Regardless, Pepperell says that humans are and probably will forever be fascinated by big animals, including big fish. The fact that ocean sunfish can grow so large is yet another reason to try and learn more about them and work to conserve them, he said. "We share the ocean with giants and may it always be so."
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