Although they are described in various ways, one depiction of the hoodwinker seems closest to its actual appearance: “an enormous . . . floating head.” Adding “with fins” would make the picture even more complete and accurate.
Hearing of the strange sea creature on Feb. 19, 2019, after it washed ashore on “the beach at Coal Oil Point Reserve, near Santa Barbara, California, conservation specialist Jessica Nielsen posted photographs of its carcass on the nature reserve’s Facebook page, where the pictures caught the eye of UC Santa Barbara’s Professor Thomas Turner. Visiting the site, he uploaded his own pictures of the sea creature on the iNaturalist social platform.
In Australia, a researcher notified marine scientist Marianne Nyegaard, suspecting that the carcass was that of a fish she’d discovered and named the hoodwinker. Sure enough, it was a hoodwinker, she confirmed, later verifying her identification through “genetic testing.” A species of sunfish, the scientific name for which is Mola tecta, the hoodwinker is common to “tropical and temperate ocean” waters. Reaching up to eight feet in length, it can weigh several thousand pounds.
Its appearance on a California beach puzzled scientists, since the hoodwinker has rarely been spotted in the Northern Hemisphere. Was it a stray? Was the creature’s seemingly sudden penchant for long-distance travel the result of the warming of oceans due to climate change? Were “changes in ocean currents” carrying the hoodwinker’s food source, jellyfish, to new parts of the ocean, causing the hoodwinkers to follow? For now, these questions remain unanswered mysteries.