What was this strange fish that washed up in Ivory Coast?

Curious onlookers gaze at a bizarre oval-shaped fish that washed up on a beach in Port-Bouët on August 15. Many people wondered if they had stumbled across a new species. (Photo: Prince Camus/Facebook)
Curious onlookers gaze at a bizarre oval-shaped fish that washed up on a beach in Port-Bouët on August 15. Many people wondered if they had stumbled across a new species. (Photo: Prince Camus/Facebook)

Over the past few days, many Ivorians have taken to social media to wonder aloud about the origins of a weird sea creature that washed up onshore in Port-Bouët, a municipality within the capital Abidjan. People reached out to the France 24 Observers team to find out more about this fish, which sparked some pretty wild theories on social media.

Urgence J'aimerai avoir le nom de ce poisson bizarre qu' la mer à faire sortie en plein après midi

Publié par Patron Camus sur mardi 15 août 2017

The creature washed up on the beach in Port-Bouët on Tuesday, August 15. Curious onlookers quickly gathered to examine the oval fish, which was about a metre wide, and to take a bunch of photos and selfies. The photos garnered a large response on social media, with some wondering if it was a new species and others claiming it was a “miracle from God”.

Some of the onlookers clambered on top of the creature, behaviour that was roundly criticised by many on social media, who demanded why more wasn’t done to rescue the fish.

C'est à cause d'un poisson Lune qu'ils font une tonne de cirque comme ça ?🤦🏾‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️pffff Ivoirien même ce n'est vraiment pas la peine quoi tjrs dans l'excès 😒😒🙄🙄🙄🚶🏾‍♀️🚶🏾‍♀️🚶🏾‍♀️🤦🏾‍♀️

Publié par Ashley Chanel sur samedi 19 août 2017

In the comments section of these photos, a few people theorised that it was an ocean sunfish. They were right.

"The ocean sunfish is threatened”

The FRANCE 24 Observers team showed the photos to Maryam Mirzaloo, a Berlin-based researcher in paleo-oceanography, which is the study of the geography and history of oceans. She confirmed that the fish was a Mola mola, more commonly known as a mola or an ocean sunfish.

The Mola mola is a fish with bones that can weigh up to a ton. It tends to prefer tropical waters, but can be found in any ocean environment where it is warmer than 12° Celsius (53.6° Fahrenheit).

The thing that makes this fish special is that it is really flat. Its broad surface area allows it to soak up sunlight and store heat, enabling it to keep its body temperature up when it plunges deep into the water. As far as vertebrates go, this fish is also a world champion in terms of reproduction – an ocean sunfish can lay up to 300 million eggs at a time.

The Mola mola is suffering from the increasing levels of pollution in the ocean. Jellyfish are their main food source but, increasingly, mola mola are accidentally ingesting plastic bags, which can be fatal. As a result, the population has taken a nosedive in the past 20 or 30 years.

According to eyewitnesses, the fish was already dead when residents discovered it on the beach on August 15.

According to eyewitnesses contacted by the Observers, the moon fish was already dead when residents came upon it. A few people tried to return it to the ocean, but it washed back up.

FRANCE 24 spoke with Barthélémy Kouassi of the main Ivorian union of fishermen and sailors.

In this case, the fish wasn’t safe for consumption. It was buried to avoid it decomposing on the beach. Often, fishermen use an event like this to hold an informal ceremony to return it to nature and ask for a good haul in future fishing trips.

It’s not the first time that a sea animal has been washed up on an Ivorian beach, but it is rare. There were only about three cases last year and, as far as I know, it’s the first time it’s happened in Abidjan this year. .

Do you want to share a photo or video documenting something that happened near where you live? Email us at observateurs@france24.com or send us a message via Facebook or WhatsApp (+33 6 30 93 41 36).