Watch a Massive Ocean Sunfish Minify Divers off Malta
by Owen James Burke
Screenshot via Erik van der Goot/Youtube
Ocean sunfish, or mola mola, are the largest bony fish known to science, averaging about 10 feet long and 2,000 pounds in adulthood, though weights of up to 5,000 pounds have been reported. We should feel lucky that they don’t fancy human flesh, nor anything vaguely of our shape or size. They mostly eat jellyfish, one marine species that could stand to see lower numbers.
The ocean sunfish also eats crustaceans, squid and eel grass, though they’re known to be fairly opportunistic feeders (they’ll eat chicken if you put it in front of them, too. This was proven to me one summer while fishing in the Gulf Stream). For this reason, these gentle giants can be a true pleasure to swim with as they will unabashedly approach a swimmer with food, and are no threat at all. Only one death has been reported in relation to the sunfish, and it was because a fisherman was squashed while landing it.
Despite that the fish is only actively hunted in a few places like Taiwan and Japan, populations are currently undergoing threat due to bycatch. One such source is the California swordfish industry, where the mola mola make for up to 30% of all gillnet bycatch, while they make up nearly all of the bycatch in the Mediterranean longline swordfishing industry. Being a consumer of jellyfish, like sea turtles, they’re also at high risk for mistaking plastics for food. You may be able to see the difference between a plastic bag and a jellyfish, but unfortunately they cannot.
Watch Mr. van der Goot’s video below, followed by an informative Ted Talk by Tierney Thys on the ocean sunfish, via The Dodo — OJB