Ocean Sunfish

Common Name:
Ocean Sunfish (Mola)
Scientific Name:
Mola mola
Type:
Fish
Diet:
Omnivore
Group Name:
School
Average Life Span In Captivity:
Up to 10 years
Size:
11 feet
Weight:
Up to 2.5 tons
IUCN Red List Status:
Vulnerable
Current Population Trend:
Decreasing

As gigantic as the ocean sunfish can be, it still seems like only half a fish.

Unique Traits

Sunfish, or mola, develop their truncated, bullet-like shape because the back fin which they are born with simply never grows. Instead, it folds into itself as the enormous creature matures, creating a rounded rudder called a clavus. Mola in Latin means "millstone" and describes the ocean sunfish’s somewhat circular shape. They are a silvery color and have a rough skin texture.

Mola are found in temperate and tropical oceans around the world. They are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface and are often mistaken for sharks when their huge dorsal fins emerge above the water. Their teeth are fused into a beak-like structure, and they are unable to fully close their relatively small mouths.

Size and Weight

The mola are the heaviest of all the bony fish, with large specimens reaching 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally and weighing nearly 5,000 pounds. Sharks and rays can be heavier, but they're cartilaginous fish.

Parasites

Ocean sunfish can become so infested with skin parasites, they will often invite small fish or even birds to feast on the pesky critters. They will even breach the surface up to 10 feet in the air and land with a splash in an attempt to shake the parasites.

Movement and Diet

They are clumsy swimmers, waggling their large dorsal and anal fins to move and steering with their clavus. Their food of choice is jellyfish, though they will eat small fish and huge amounts of zooplankton and algae as well. They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers.

Threats to Survival

Their population is considered vulnerable. Sunfish frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by Natalie C., National Geographic Your Shot

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