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Was this two-ton sunfish a world champ?

Almost a century ago, on September 18, 1908, the Australian steamship Fiona accidentally struck and killed a huge sunfish about 40 miles (65 km) from Sydney and towed it to a harbourside wharf, where it was measured and placed on a weighbridge. According to the December 10, 1910 issue of the The Wide World Magazine (London), the marine monster was 10 feet (3.1 m.) long, 14 feet (4.26m) wide, and weighed two tons four hundredweight (4927 pounds).

It was probably the heaviest bony fish ever caught until then. It lost any claim to a world record when an even larger sunfish was caught off the coast of Japan's Ibaraki prefecture in 1999. Weighing 2.5 tons, and 3.33 metres in length, that monster of the deep is a prize exhibit at the Museum of Natural and Human History in Kitayushi.

But when it comes to finding the world's heaviest fish, whale sharks win first prize. They're the world's largest fish, several times as heavy as any sunfish. [A bony fish is one with a bony (as opposed to cartilaginous) skeleton. Sharks are cartilaginous. Whales are marine mammals, not fish.]

A Canadian group, The Reef Centre for Shark Research, has posted a picture of a huge white shark, with this caption:

An archival photo of the famous "Cojimar Specimen", a large White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias) caught off Cuba in 1945 that was said to measure 21 feet (6.4 m) and weigh about 7,100 lbs (3,220 kg). Sometimes, this weight is given as "7,302 pounds" (3,312 kg), but -- in truth -- this shark was never weighed. The length of this shark has been questioned, too. From the photo, the shark looks about 16 feet (5 m) long -- that's still awfully BIG, but a long way short of 21 feet!. The weight of large White Sharks is highly variable at a given length, so it is difficult to estimate the mass of such a beast.

"Few things are as stubbornly tough to verify as a Really Big Fish Story," says an article beneath the photo.

"The Whale Shark (Rhincodon typus) is generally regarded to be the World's Largest Living Fish, having been reliably reported to reach lengths of at least 16 metres (55 feet), and reputed to reach as long as 18 metres (60 feet).

"However, the largest Whale Shark ever captured measured some 12.6 metres in length and was harpooned off Baba Island (near Karachi, Pakistan) in November 1949. The girth (distance around the thickest part of the body) of this specimen measured some 7 metres (23 feet) and the whole shark was estimated to weigh about 15 tonnes (15.5 tons)."

This story began when I read this news of a fishing contest to be held in August off the Faroe Islands:

A prize of 10,000 euro will be won by the angler who catches the biggest fish and another 10,000 euro will be awarded for the biggest overall catch at the Smyril Line International Sea Angling Cup, which takes place in Runavik in the rich fishing grounds of the Faroe Islands from 21-25 August 2006.

That prompted me to search the internet to discover what was the world's largest or heaviest fish.

FOOTNOTE.
The SS Fiona collected the world's heaviest bony fish in 1908. In a strange coincidence a current US website is named Fiona's Shark Mania. Fiona writes

Sharks are always there for me.
Swishing from side to side like snakes,
Beating out the time like thick rubbery metronomes.
Their long gray bodies. Their open mouths.
Their absolutely flat, implacable eyes.

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Story first posted April 2006

Copyright 2006

Eric Shackle

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