Enormous weird fish usually found in NZ washes up in California

A Mola tecta specimen washed up on a beach in California.
A Mola tecta specimen washed up on a beach in California. Photo credit: Coal Oil Point Reserve/Facebook

A huge and mysterious fish has washed up California, half a world away from its usual home in the waters around New Zealand.

The 2m-wide hoodwinker sunfish was found dead on the University of California's Coal Oil Point Reserve on February 19, baffling researchers who have no idea how it ended up there.

The species only got a formal name, Mola tecta, in 2017 after a specimen washed ashore in Christchurch.

Researchers at the University of California told told Live Science it's the first one ever found north of the equator.

It took days to figure out what the fish was, with environmentalists initially misidentifying it as a related species, Mola mola - the ocean sunfish.

"An incredible example of the amazing discoveries that can be made through collaboration," the University of California said on its Coal Oil Point Reserve Facebook page.

The hoodwinker has also been seen off the southeast coast of Australia and southern Chile.

Sunfish are the largest type of bony fishes in the world, and can weigh up to a tonne.