On Monday, police in Wareham, Massachusetts, found themselves fielding an onslaught of calls about a strange sighting in Broad Cove.
Some people reported an injured seal, while others thought they had seen a shark along the coastline of the town about 55 miles south of Boston. In the end, the mysterious sea creature turned out to be a sunfish, whose dorsal fin can resemble a shark's fin.
The Wareham Department of Natural Resources even made a plea on Facebook, telling concerned citizens to stop dialing 911 about the big fish.
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"We are aware of a sunfish in Broad Cove," read the post. "We have checked on it, and it is doing normal sunfish activities. Its swimming. It is not stranded or suffering. The sunfish is FINE. Dont be jealous just because its not swimming weather anymore! PLEASE STOP CALLING THE POLICE DEPARTMENT ABOUT THIS SUNFISH!!"
The sunfish, also called a mola, is one of the world's largest bony fish, according to National Geographic. They can grow to 11 feet long and weigh up to 2.5 tons or 5,000 pounds. "Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world," says National Geographic. "They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water."
"Sunfish tend to be a normal visitor to our area during this time of year and we’re happy to report he exited our harbor inlet on its own," Garry Buckminster, the director of the Department of Natural Resources in Wareham told TODAY.
"I started receiving calls on my personal phone around 6:30 a.m. regarding the sunfish and from there, the police department dispatch center started to receive calls after that. We put out the plea because we have an extremely busy police department and while we greatly appreciate people keeping an eye out to notify us it’s important to keep the police dispatch free for other calls and potential emergencies. We have business lines at the department of natural resources where messages can be left. In addition we work directly with NECWA (New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance) should the sunfish become stranded."
Buckminster estimated that the sunfish in question was on the smaller side, about 150-250 pounds.
The Wareham Department of Natural Resources (DNR) told TODAY that on Monday, they were notified by the Wareham Emergency Communications Center (ECC) of a possible injured seal in Broad Cove, in Onset.
"Two DNR officers began a search of the area, and located a flopping dorsal fin moving throughout the shoreline of the cove," a department representative told TODAY. "The dorsal fin was immediately identified as belong to a sunfish and it was in approximately 15-20' of water at all times. There was no signs of stranding or the fish being in distress. It was determined that this Ocean Sunfish was the animal in question, and there were no seals located."
DNR Officer Joshua Kimball stated that, 'Throughout the remainder of the afternoon, the Sunfish stayed in Broad Cove and the ECC received multiple calls reporting it, as well as the DNR receiving emails as well.'"
The DNR also added, "Sunfish are generalist predators that consume largely small fishes, fish larvae, squid and crustaceans. With the large tides we have been having mixed with the impending migration to warmer wintering ground, sunfish sometimes end up in tricky areas and are in need of some human intervention.
"When stranding situations arise with marine wildlife we utilize the professional services offered by non-profits like the Cape Wildlife Center (CWC), New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance (NECWA), the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the New England Aquarium. The DNR did not require the services of any outside agency at the time."
The DNR told TODAY that in general, their policy is not to intervene if an animal is not in immediate danger, following the motto, "If you care, leave them there."
"We will intervene if we truly need to based on our thorough training and experience, and would never leave an animal to suffer," said officer Kimball. "We are happy to report that it appears the sunfish has left Broad Cove, and we have no further reports of the fish in the area."
"DNR officers will continue to monitor the area and we appreciate the concern of the residents and others who reported the fish to our Department," said the DNR.