…is a smaller species of oceanic sunfish found in tropical and temperate seas worldwide. Like its more well known relative M. mola the slender sunfish is pelagic and roams the vast oceans feeding on jellyfish. Also like most molids the slender sunfish will recruit other animals like cleaner fish and seabirds to pick parasites off of them. Molids will usually go to the surface and lay on their sides to signify they want to be cleaned, which makes it look like they are sunbathing, hence the name.
One of the ocean’s oddest looking fish, the Mola Mola possesses a truly bizarre body shape, likened to a gigantic ‘swimming head.’ Female sunfish are known to produce up to 300 million eggs at one time, the largest number of eggs ever recorded in a vertebrate.
Where and when the sunfish spawns is not well known, although five possible areas have been identified in the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific, and in the Indian Ocean, where there are central rotating oceanic currents, called gyres. The newly hatched sunfish measure just 0.25 centimetres in length, and will increase in mass by over 60 million times in order to reach the size of a 3 metre adult.
(via: MIssion Blue - Sylvia Earle Alliance) (Photo: (c) Sailroe)
National Geographic explorer Tierney Thys divides her time between research on the giant ocean sunfish (Mola mola) and making science education films. In our latest podcast (recorded at this month’s SciCafe), Ms. Thys discusses how science and art can be used to raise awareness for ocean conservation.
The Mola mola is the largest bony fish living today, and only the three largest sharks (the blue shark, basking shark, and great white shark) regularly outweigh this behemoth of the open ocean.
Like many of the giants of the animal kingdom, the sunfish has a diet that’s almost paradoxically nutrient-poor. All of the calories taken in by adult sunfish are provided by jellyfish and small fry and eggs of other fish, so they spend a large amount of their time eating. Their presence in an area can indicate nutrient-rich waters where endangered species can often be found.
The status of sunfish in the wild is not currently known, though they’re caught often enough that they’re assumed to not be threatened at this point. A multi-year survey of the worldwide sunfish populations is currently underway.
Image: Giant ocean sunfish caught by W.N. McMillan of E. Africa, at Santa Catalina Isl., Cal. April 1st, 1910. Its weight was estimated at 3,500 pounds.
Two years later, alien-like sea creature gains Internet stardom
by Pete Thomas, GrindTV.com
Among the more bizarre-looking visitors to California waters this summer are Mola molas, or ocean sunfish, which are being seen in unusually high numbers. But it’s a stunning photograph of one of these gentle giants that appears to be getting the most attention. The image, captured off San Diego by Daniel Botelho, became an instant hit after being posted last week on his Facebook page…
The oceanic sunfish is known to bask flat on the ocean surface. It has theorized that this behavior may be a method to ‘thermally recharge’ itself before diving to deeper depths. Seabirds have also been observed to land on the sunfish and pick parasites off its body whilst in this position.
In the course of its evolution, the caudal fin (tail) of the sunfish disappeared, to be replaced by a lumpy pseudo-tail, the clavus. This structure is formed by the convergence of the dorsal and anal fins.Without a true tail to provide thrust for forward motion and equipped with only small pectoral fins, Mola mola relies on its long, thin dorsal and anal fins for propulsion, driving itself forward by moving these fins from side to side.