Sunfish

The sunfish (Mola Mola) are strange looking creatures; they are a disc shaped fish that can grow up to 2 metres in diameter!


We most often see these animals on their side, floating on the surface either just basking in the sun or attracting seabirds (such as Herring Gulls) to pick the parasites off their skin. Their dorsal fin sticks out of the water when they're at the surface and flops from side to side as though it's trying to propel the fish along.


Identification:

  • Sunfish are unlike anything else we see on a Sea Safari. We tend to spot them by looking for a big, white blob floating on the surface.

  • The dorsal fin sticking out of the water can sometimes resemble a shark fin, but after closer inspection is it easy to identify as a sunfish.

  • They are the largest bony fish in the world measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 1000kg.

Distribution: Sunfish are found in tropical and temperate oceans all over the world. They are summer visitors to Cornish waters so we start seeing them on Sea Safaris when the sea starts warming up in the middle of the summer. A lot of their time is spent at the surface lying on their sides basking in the sun to warm up. They swim along plankton lines hunting for jellyfish.

Conservation: Sunfish are often by-caught accidentally by drift gillnets used in swordfish fisheries. The by-catch rate in California is around 30% of the total catch, but in Mediterranean swordfish fisheries, 71 - 90% of the total catch is sunfish. Sunfish are also threatened by marine litter, especially plastic bags, which they can choke on when mistaken for jellyfish. Sunfish are eaten in some parts of the world, mainly in Taiwan and Japan. Sunfish in Cornish folklore: It is a well known story that the patron Saint of Cornwall, St. Piran, travelled from Ireland to Perran beach in Cornwall on a millstone. He then discovered tin, set up churches for the Cornish and performed many other miracles. Legend has it that it was a large, round sunfish rather than a millstone that towed the holy man to Cornwall.  This is supported by the fact that the sunfish's Latin name is Mola Mola, which means millstone!


*All photos are taken by Orca Sea Safaris and/or their customers.






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