On two consecutive summer afternoons this week, South Shore beaches have been cleared by reports of a shark in the water — maybe even a great white.
And on two consecutive afternoons, the creature in question turned out to be an ocean sunfish. Though the harmless plankton feeder might look like a great white as it floats with its fin in the air, the two species could scarcely be more different below the surface.
Both of the scares came in the wake of Monday’s confirmed great white sighting off of the coast of Duxbury, and marine experts say it’s appropriate to be cautious when it comes to shark safety at beaches.
But the sunfish — along with the basking shark, which startled people in the Taunton River Wednesday — is a frequent culprit in false alarms about predatory sea creatures. It’s also an interesting specimen in its own right.
It’s the world’s heaviest bony fish
The sunfish can grow to weigh more than a ton. Though other animals in the sea can be larger, those that are fish — like the whale shark — have cartilage instead of bones. Those that have bones — like the blue whale — aren’t fish.
Its skin is poison
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