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Originally published November 1, 2013 at 3:21 PM | Page modified November 2, 2013 at 5:24 PM

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Was giant fish ‘from Mars’ cruising South Sound last month?

Olympia boater saw giant sunfish twice in September, and experts believe it could be the same one caught by a gill-netter in Elliott Bay.

Seattle Times staff reporter


A giant sunfish, dubbed the fish “from Mars” and caught by a tribal gill-netter in Elliott Bay last week, might have been on a tour of Puget Sound — or had a friend.

Another sunfish, or quite possibly the same one, recently was seen swimming at Budd Inlet just north of Olympia in south Puget Sound.

Scott McKinney of Olympia was boating and came across a sunfish he estimated to measure about 4½ feet on Sept. 13 and Sept. 24 off Gull Harbor and Cooper Point.

“We got pretty close to this thing, and at first we thought it was a shark because its fin stuck out of the water,” McKinney said of the long dorsal fin. “It was pretty cool to see the sunfish twice, and around the same time we had a huge jellyfish outbreak.”

The main diet of a sunfish, also known as a mola, is jellyfish, and they tend to stick around areas where a jellyfish bloom occurs. They’ll also consume small crustaceans, squid, zooplankton, fish, larvae and algae.

Todd LaClair, a Muckleshoot tribal gill-netter, caught a sunfish Tuesday night off Harbor Island in Elliott Bay. LaClair estimated it weighed 325 to 350 pounds. It appeared to be about the same size as the sunfish seen in Budd Inlet.

The Elliott Bay sunfish later was brought to Sunfish Fish & Chips on Alki Avenue Southwest, and put on display, drawing a lot of gawkers.

“When it first came up, it startled me,” LaClair said of catching the creature, “and looked like something that came from Mars.”

Michael Vassiliou, the owner of Sunfish Fish & Chips, said Friday he is still deciding what to do with the giant fish. He has frozen the creature and is considering weighing it to find out how large it really is.

The fish seen in the south Puget Sound could have been the same one caught in view of the Seattle skyline.

“These fish have the ability to move 15 to 20 miles in a day,” said Davy Lowry, a state Fish and Wildlife senior research scientist. “While we can’t say for sure that this is the same sunfish recently caught in the Seattle area, it seems odd for two sunfish to be in the Sound in such a short period of time.”

Lowry says the sunfish seen in Budd Inlet was the first ever reported that far south in Puget Sound.

“We’ve never had a sunfish seen in South Sound,” Lowry said. “The last (visual) report of a sunfish anywhere in Puget Sound was 2002, so it has been quite a while. That doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t in here at any given time.”

The mola is commonly found in tropical and temperate waters, although every summer they’re seen in the ocean off Oregon and Washington following the warm currents being pushed north along the West Coast.

They’re a bony fish that has a round body with a large dorsal and lower body fin, and a very rough skin texture with numerous skin parasites. They can grow very large, averaging 2,000 pounds and as much as 5,000.

This isn’t the only weird fish to recently show up in Puget Sound.

A 12-inch Pacific mackerel was caught Oct. 17 by a sport angler in Commencement Bay, and it was reported to be part of a large school of fish at 85 feet.

On Aug. 31, Rick Shapland of Molalla, Ore., caught a 28.8-pound opah during a two-day fishing trip out of Westport, Grays Harbor County.

Other strange fish include two Atka mackerel caught off Westport and Ilwaco, Pacific County, this summer, and a dorado hooked near Ilwaco on Aug. 1.

And earlier this summer, two striped bass — a famed sport fish on the Atlantic coast — were caught in the Columbia River.

More razor clam digs set

The huge razor clam population on coastal beaches has been a boon for diggers, and state Fish and Wildlife announced 16 more tentative dig dates that will go from the end of November all the way to New Year’s Eve.

Digging is currently under way Sunday and Monday at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Tuesday at Long Beach and Twin Harbors; and Wednesday to Friday at Long Beach. Digging is open from noon to midnight each day.

More digs are scheduled for Nov. 15-16 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; Nov. 17 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; and Nov. 18-20 at Long Beach.

New dates announced are: Nov. 30, Dec. 14 and Dec. 29-31 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 15-16 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Dec. 4 at Long Beach and Twin Harbors; and Dec. 5-7 and Dec. 17-18 at Twin Harbors.

Each series of digs will be finalized and approved by state Fish and Wildlife usually a week before the start dates. or 206-464-8780