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NSRI swimmers and marine wildlife specialists from Two Oceans Aquarium teamed up to assist a trapped sunfish in Bantry Bay earlier this year.

Click here to watch video.

When a call came in to Two Oceans Aquarium from a member of the public concerned about a sunfish (also known as a “mola mola”) that was being hammered against the rocks in Bantry Bay, marine wildlife specialists and members of Two Oceans Aquarium Foundation's Wildlife Management Programme, Claire Taylor and Martine Viljoen responded.

“When we arrived, the exhausted sunfish was no longer being battered against the rocks, but was cocooned in the kelp. It wasn’t moving, I thought we were too late. But then its fin moved. I thought at best we would probably be helping it out to sea to die.”

Acting quickly, Claire contacted the NSRI to request assistance in navigating the potentially dangerous currents in the bay.

Station 3 (Table Bay) crew member and regular cold-water swimmer Paula Armstrong responded, along with Jannes Le Roux from Station 2 (Bakoven) and Paula Leech, also from Station 3.

“The sunfish was exhausted when we got to it,” says Paula. “It was fairly straightforward to steer it out of the kelp, but I was surprised at how tiring the swim was. Claire and Martine briefed us before we entered the water, and insisted that we put on our gloves as the sunfish’s skin is quite rough and abrasive. Once we reached the fish, we had to kick it out of the kelp, careful to keep its nose up so that it didn't sink to the bottom due to exhaustion. It was hard work.”

The swimmers guided the roughly 1.5m-long sunfish through the kelp on its side, holding its fins and face, careful to keep it flat on the surface. Once they finally reached open water, gentle hands manoeuvred the fish to its upright position.

“The sunfish’s one eye was locked with mine as we swam it out,” says Claire. “Such a beautiful experience. We were really surprised – and thrilled – when it began to move. In a matter of seconds, it swam off into the open ocean. I think it has a strong chance of surviving.”

Native to the temperate and tropical waters all over the world, these prehistoric-looking marine animals reach an average size of up to 1.8m in length (with a span from fin-to-fin of 2.5m) and it's estimated that they can live up to 100 years in the wild!

Paula describes the experience as ‘absolutely enchanting’ to encounter this giant fish up close.

“I often see their fins when we are out doing open water swims, and I have always been quite terrified at the prospect of swimming into one of them, because of their size,” she says. “So it was a privilege to gently interact with it under the guidance of the marine wildlife swimmers. They were so calm and knowledgeable. It was difficult not to get swept up in their excitement when the sunfish took off to safety. This was a remarkable experience. I really count myself lucky to have been involved.”

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