Animal news! The ocean sunfish, scaring people on Buzzards Bay

Re Buzzards Bay: when we were kids, our large family — aunts, uncles, cousins, sibs — established our summer residence in one of a series of rental houses near Buzzards Bay. We never saw a buzzard.

Neither did the settlers who named the bay Buzzard; they mistook an osprey for a buzzard. I’m now feeling a bit gobsmacked: until now, I hadn’t known how the bay got named. Really, history has kept a name carelessly slapped on because some settlers didn’t know what they were seeing? This sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

That was a detour.

Let’s get to the main story, from the New York Times: “It’s a Fish, Officials Say. Can You Stop Calling 911 Now?”

You understand why I zoomed in on this story.

Have you ever seen a sunfish? I haven’t. Neither have people on the shores of Buzzards Bay who have seen the floppy dorsal fin of the sunfish and have been calling the police in a shark invasion panic.

The sunfish is not a shark. Sharks are a lot better looking. (Click on the link for the sunfish portrait in the Times.)

Here are some things the piece, written by Maria Cramer, had to say about the sunfish:

[Garry] Buckminster [Director of the Wareham Department of Natural Resources], recalled one summer more than 20 years ago when the dorsal fin of a sunfish terrified swimmers at Onset Beach.

“Everyone went running out of the water,” he said, “and it was just this big goofy fish.”

“…just this big goofy fish.”

Sunfish move by oscillating their dorsal fins at the water’s surface, an odd-looking way of swimming that can sometimes make it appear as if they are hurt.

In 2015, the fish famously confused two men who filmed the creature as they toured Boston Harbor in a boat.

“That’s a tuna, bro!” one of them exclaimed in a profanity-laced video that was widely circulated online.

And the Times gives us a link to a “profanity-laced video,” which a lot of us need nowadays. Thank you, New York Times.

Sunfish are also “extremely curious.”

Chris Whitton, owner of the Neat Lady Fishing Company, which operates fishing boats in Buzzards Bay, said it was not unusual for sunfish to swim right up to his boats.

“I’ve had them come right up to the side of the boat, and they lift one eye to look at you and you’re looking back at it,” he said. “They’re very docile and they’re not going to hurt anybody.”

The worst thing sunfish do to people is spit. So do alpacas. I know this because I am obsessively re-watching “The Yorkshire Vet” on Acorn TV.




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