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Giant Sea Creature Finally Identified After Washing Up On South California Shore

A 7-foot sea creature that washed ashore in Southern California has been identified as a hoodwinker sunfish, a recently identified rare species thought to live in the Southern Hemisphere.

University of California, Santa Barbara, said an intern spotted the stranded fish last week at Sands Beach in the university's Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve.

The intern alerted Jessica Nielsen, a conservation specialist at Coal Oil Point who initially thought it was a type of local sunfish and posted photos to the reserve's Facebook page.

Image: UC Santa Barbara/ Thomas Turner

That drew the attention of Thomas Turner, an associate professor in UCSB's ecology, evolution and marine biology department who examined the fish and posted photos to the iNaturalist online community.

That caught the eye of Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia, who identified the species in 2017 and formally named it Mola tecta but gave it the hoodwinker moniker because it had somehow escaped scientific recognition.

Image: UC Santa Barbara/ Thomas Turner

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Nyegaard told UCSB in an email that she discussed the images with ichthyologist Ralph Foster of the South Australian Museum but was reluctant to identify the fish as a hoodwinker because the photos didn't clearly show distinctive features and because it had turned up so far out of its known range.