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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones

Other Sea Life

Ocean Sunfish



Oscean Sunfish

Mola mola

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A single dark fin waving on the surface is often mistaken for a shark, but it may be the dorsal fin of a very odd fish called the Ocean Sunfish.  Photo by Steve Mirick 

Ocean Sunfish Mola mola
Your first awareness of this strange creature often seen on pelagic trips is a dark fin wobbling back and forth on the surface as shown in Steve Mirick’s photograph above. Unlike a shark or other fish it doesn't seem to move forward but rather rocks back and forth with the waves. You are looking at an Ocean Sunfish or Mola mola. This is one of the few animals that the announcer may identify by the scientific name of Mola mola.

Closer scrutiny reveals a large flat fish with a dorsal fin and a larger ventral or anal fin projecting downward like a centerboard of a sail boat. There is almost no tail. It is a harmless creature that feeds primarily on jellyfish and other small plankton. Participants on a Southern California pelagic trip reported an Ocean Sunfish breaching.

Ocean Sunfish Mola mola Emmalee Tarry 

In this photo the sunfish was lying flat on the top of the water right next to the boat. Photo by Emmalee Tarry

Notice the lack of tail and the long ventral fin. This fish swims by moving dorsal and ventral fins.  No wonder it swims so slowly.  Other fish and sharks swim by moving their body back and forth. 

The ocean sunfish ranges in size from a large pizza to a small car.

Ocean Sunfish Jim Beseda 

Ocean Sunfish by Jim Beseda.  That dark spot is not the eye  but the dark spot in front of the lateral fin.

Ocean Sunfish mouth open Leonard Medlock 

Ocean Sunfish with mouth visible and open.  Leonard Medlock

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