Ocean Sunfish: Not Quite Unheard of in Long Island Sound
Here’s what he told me about ocean sunfish:
I've never seen one in the Sound but I doubt that this is the first one ever to occur. Mola mola is a drifting cosmopolitan wanderer. Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut lists three records from the eastern Sound.
I saw one on the south shore but wish I'd seen this one too.
That sent me off to Google ‘Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut.” One of the references that popped up was for this – “Annotated list of fishes reported from the marine waters of New York,” by Phillip T. Briggs and John R. Waldman. Briggs is a lobster biologist who worked for the state and who was enormously helpful to me when I was researching my book and doing newspaper reporting on the Sound, back in the 1980s; not sure what happened to him, but I think he retired. Waldman is, well – Waldman.
I clicked through the “Annotated list” until I came to the Molas, and found that Briggs and Waldman had this to say:
Ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Not uncommon in the summer. Nichols and Breder (1927) called it rare. NYSDEC personnel have seen it many times off the south shore of Long Island. We have observed it twice (1974 and 1985) off Port Jefferson in Long Island Sound.
So when John Waldman says he doubts that the Larchmont sunfish is the first one to occur in the Sound, he’s right, and his source is impeccable – it’s Waldman and Briggs (although John tells me that when they wrote "we have observed it ... off Port Jefferson," they really meant Briggs observed it).
(7 p.m. update: Jane O'Donnell (Manager of Scientific Collections, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Unit-3043, University of Connecticut) told me the following about ocean sunfish and "Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut":
I only have the original addition of the "Saltwater Fishes of CT" on hand; it lists two records form the sound (a third may have been added in any subsequent editions?).
I quote from page 154:
"A specimen of the ocean sunfish (Mola mola) was killed by the Coast Guard off New London in the late summer of 1966 and identified by the senior author. A second was captured off Branford in September 1970."
The book does not give any information as to where the specimens might be.)