The Mysterious Mola

From deep ocean denizens to strange sharks, the ocean is full of bizarre creatures. But out of all the odd marine life out there, the sunfish, or mola, might be one of the weirdest of them all. If you’ve never seen a sunfish (or a picture of one), they can be pretty startling (video is a bit NSFW, so headphones recommended): 

Sunfish are not in fact “a baby whale” or “a tuna bro”, but their own unique genus of fish. They look like enormous constantly-surprised dinner plates, with no actual tail but just a rudder-like fin. They hatch with tails, but as they grow, the tail folds back around and fuses into their body, leaving just the rudder, or clavus

And speaking of growing, that’s something that sunfish do exceptionally well, despite their tiny mouths and their diets of zooplankton, krill, and jellyfish. The biggest is the ocean sunfish, or the Mola mola, which can grow to an astounding 4.3 m (14 feet) from fin-tip to fin-tip, and weigh as much as 2,300 kg (5,000 lb). Sunfish are the heaviest bony fish in the world (certain sharks are heavier, but they’re cartilaginous, not bony). 

You’d think that it would be difficult for a two-ton creature to hide from people for decades, but the hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) somehow managed it. When one washed up on the California coast a few months ago, it made headlines as the first of that species to ever be seen in the northern hemisphere. And before that, the hoodwinker hid in plain sight – people thought M. tecta was actually M. mola until 2017. 

Ocean sunfish, or Mola mola. Image by NOAA Fisheries West Coast.

When I think about creatures like the sunfish – giant weird ones that have managed to escaped notice (not unlike the saola) – it really makes me appreciate just how diverse the life on our planet really is. 

HOLY SH*T JAY indeed.