Are you looking for some awesome ocean sunfish facts? I got 17 facts about these super wacko fish!
What IS That Thing?!
The ocean sunfish, a.k.a mola mola, may be one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen; alive or otherwise.
Flat, bumpy, wrinkly, and just plain ugly, the ocean sunfish won’t be winning any beauty pageants. It basically looks like a flounder-shark in desperate need of cosmetic surgery. A weird animal, to say the least.
While this strange fish may get a lot of tough love, it is fascinating.
Ocean Sunfish by the Numbers
- Latin name: Mola mola
- Length: from the tip of the top fin to the tip of the bottom fin: 8.2 ft (2.5 m) and across: 5.9 ft (1.8 m). Maximum: fin to fin: 14 ft (4.2 m) and across: 10.8 ft (3.3 m)
- Weight: 545 – 2,205 lb (247 – 1,000 kg) Maximum: 5,100 lb (2,300 kg); almost as much as an SUV!
- Color: white or silvery-gray. They have many different speckled patterns and some may be region specific.
- Cool feature: the ocean sunfish swims by using it’s top and bottom fins and basically flopping back and forth.
Ever heard the expression, “so ugly it’s cute”? Well, that definitely applies to the ocean sunfish. Although they may at first appear to be a genetic experiment gone wrong, they do have a certain fascinating beauty.
17 Ocean Sunfish Facts
1. Name Origin of the Ocean Sunfish (Mola Mola)
The name “mola mola” is latin for “millstone,” referring to the mola molas round shape and gray color.
The name “ocean sunfish” comes from this fish’s habit of sunbathing (discussed below).
Both “ocean sunfish” and “mola mola” are correct names for this fish in question.
2. Mola, Mola, Sunfish!
You know, duck, duck, goose? eh? eh? nothing?
“Mola mola” is actually the scientific name of the ocean sunfish. Because there are two different kinds of sunfish (as I mentioned above) the ocean sunfish is often referred to as “mola mola.”
3. What are baby sunfish called?
Young fish, including the ocean sunfish, are called fry. Ha! I couldn’t believe this the first time I heard it. To fry; or not to fry the ocean sunfish fish fry; this is the question…
It’s an unfortunate name; people don’t need any more incentives to fry fish. These poor fish fries are encouraging us! (As a matter of fact, people do eat fish fries, but not ocean sunfish fish fries – I know; tongue twister galore)
Also, I know that these baby fish would correctly be called “ocean sunfish fries,” however, I like “ocean sunfish fish fries” much better. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?
4. The World’s Heaviest Bony Fish
The mola mola is the heaviest bony fish in the world. But being big isn’t always good.
One great white was found with bits of a 6-foot (1.8 m) ocean sunfish inside (I’ll discuss mola mola predators below). Now that’s a seafood buffet!
5. Where Did the Ocean Sunfish Get Its Name?
The ocean gets a little colder than normal at depths of 2,000 ft (600 m), which is how deep an ocean sunfish can dive.
Because of these chilly temperatures, mola mola may float close to the surface to sunbathe so that they can bring their body temperatures up again.
Ocean sunfish can host up to 40 different species of parasites.
Some of these are skin parasites and can be picked off by brave seabirds when the mola rests on the top of the water.
7. High Dive
In addition to having seabirds and small pick-off parasites, a mola mola may leap up to 10 ft (3 m) in the air and then splash down hard to try to shake off the parasites!
In addition to all the gross parasites, the ocean sunfish is also covered in a delightful layer of mucus.
9. What Do Ocean Sunfish Eat?
Mola molas mainly feed on jellyfish. Shocking, isn’t it?
Ocean sunfish can also eat sea sponges, small fish, squid, crustaceans, and brittle sea stars, although these things don’t make up a significant part of their diet.
Jellyfish are excellent hosts for parasites, which may be why the ocean sunfish has so many.
The mucus layer of the mola mola also lines their digestive tracts which may very well be the reason they can digest the jellies without getting stung.
10. Don’t Play With Your Food
Mola mola obviously didn’t have moms to tell them to chew their food and not to play with it.
The ocean sunfish doesn’t chew it’s food. When they eat jellyfish, they suck it in and out of their small mouths until it’s small enough to swallow.
11. Dun, Dun, Dun!
A peaceful day at the beach, sun shining, sand in your toes. And then: is it a dolphin? No… Jaws! AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!
Yeah, yeah; drama! Anyway, an ocean sunfish cruising along the top of the water may very well look like a shark fin slicing through the surf.
12. Babies, Babies, and More Babies!
Fish fries, if you want to get all accurate, or whatever. An ocean sunfish can produce up to 300 million eggs at once! That’s insane!
When they hatch, the ocean sunfish fries are only as big as a pin head! They grow very fast, gaining almost 2 lb (0.9 kg) every day until fully grown.
This means that it grows more than 60 million times its original size; the same as a human baby growing to weigh as much as six Titanics!
The mola mola can lay more eggs than any other vertebrate known to man. I’m glad I don’t have 299,999,999 brothers and sisters!
13. Thick Skinned
If the well-known expression (thick skinned) is accurate, the ocean sunfish must never get offended. Its skin is up to 3 in (7.6 cm) thick!
This mucus-covered skin is like sandpaper, so much so that divers have to wear thick gloves to protect their hands if they intend to touch the fish.
14. Aw Struck?
The mola mola never closes its mouth because its teeth are fused together. This helps the comical dopey look that these strange fish sport.
15. A Ripe Old Age
Ocean sunfish may live as long or even longer than us. And, also similar to humans, the females live longer than males. Some live to be up to 100 years-old.
16. Is the Mola Mola Edible?
This was a question I encountered a lot while researching this article.
Most people say (check the comment section of this article: Weirdest Fish in the Ocean) that it tastes absolutely awful and that since it is full of parasites is very unhealthy.
However, another source says that it is a popular meal in Asia and is used medicinally.
So, by my deduction, the ocean sunfish is edible but not popular in the Americas.
You decide and tell me in the comments!
17. Predators of the Mola Mola (Ocean Sunfish)
The predators of the mola mola, other than humans, include killer whales, sea lions, and sharks.
We can all have a small part in conservation by not littering (in our oceans or elsewhere) and by making sure our bags are not floating around but firmly wedged in the recycling bin.
Plastic bags are a threat to all kinds of sea life, like whales, sea turtles, and of course molas.
Read more about another huge, slow animal: Meet the Galapagos Giant Tortoise
The Enormous, Dopey, Snot-Covered, High-Diving Mola Mola!
These are my 17 amazing ocean sunfish facts! I hope you enjoyed learning about this strange and fascinating creature.
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments! Have you ever snorkeled with a mola mola? Seen one at a zoo? Or even eaten one? Tell me all about it. Also, feel free to provide more facts to improve this post!
Drew Haines is an animal enthusiast and travel writer. She loves to share her passion through her writing.
She lived in Ecuador for 6 years and explored the Galapagos Islands. Currently based in N.S., Canada.