Mola Fish Gains World Wide Popularity Online

Mola Mola

A photograph featuring a strange, enormous white fish swimming just below the ocean surface with a diver has millions of shares on social networking sites like Facebook and Reddit. The fish looks like a flattened round wheel and has two distinctive large fins, one on the top of its body and the other on the lower part of its body. Fascinated by the unusual and large sea creature, internet users are itching to learn more about this majestic animal. The original photograph that went viral was snapped by Daniel Botelho back in 2010.

The Mola is also known as the Sunfish, and there are two species currently known: The Ocean Sunfish or Mola mola, and Southern Ocean Sunfish Mola Ramsayi. Both animals have large, flattened bodies and two extended fins that they use to swim slowly through the waters. Mola mola fish have two smaller fins on the the side of their bodies to keep them stable. They also have a distinctive, parrot like beak.

Dr. Tierney Thys was interviewed by National Geographic Magazine about this interesting ocean fish. Dr. Thys is a National Geographic Explorer as well as the founder and director of the Ocean Sunfish Tagging and Research Program.

Dr. Thys explains that the Sunfish is the heaviest bony fish in the world and is considered one of the “most evolutionary derived fish” in the ocean. It belongs to a very similar family as the more well known puffer fish and the porcupine fish.

“It has a cranium more like what ours looks like,” Dr. Thys says in his interview, “Along with fewer vertebrae; its spinal column is actually shorter than its brain. And they’re one of the most fecund vertebrates in the world; a 4-ft female was recorded as having an estimated 300 million eggs”

Ocean SunfishWhen asked whether the Mola or Sunfish is endangered, Dr. Thys mentions that there is not enough data to tell if they are. Adult Mola are loners and do not school, although younger fish will often school in order to protect themselves from predators. The Ocean Sunfish Tagging and Research Program captures and tags a number of Sunfish every year, tracking their movements and studying whether the populations are stable or declining. He says that while the Mola is not commercially targeted by fishermen, the large animals are vulnerable to activities like trawl fishing and can get entangled in nets as by-catch. He worries that accidental captures could eventually lead in a decline of these animals.

Ocean Sunfish can grow up to ten feet long, but Dr. Thys mentions that they are gentle, passive giants. While they can nibble divers who harass them, they will generally stay away from others. The Ocean Sunfish is a jellyfish eater and can be found over a vast range of areas, from the cool tropics off the Galapagos Islands to freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean.

Dr. Thys however, is delighted with people’s interest in this unusual fish: “People love the sunfish, it’s a lot of people’s favourite fish. There’s poetry, folklore— you can even adopt them.”

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

K G Feddersen September 17, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Some years ago we experienced a ‘Jaws’ scene at Point Pleasant on the Jersey shore. All the swimmers came flying out of the water. It turned out to be a young sunfish that had come into shallow water (perhaps 30′ from the waters edge), with the dorsal fin sticking out of the water.

Of course the true fin structure gave it away, but most bathers did not know the difference from a smooth sharks fin.

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Mike January 1, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Simply amazing, never heard of this fish before now, and certainly never saw one before.

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