Mola Mola by Richard Herrmann
Ever wondered what the largest bony fish in the world was called? Well, it's the Ocean Sunfish, otherwise known as the Mola Mola. The word "Mola" comes from Latin and means "millstone" - a reference to the Sunfish's shape. Averaging about 1000kg (2200lb), this fish is no pushover. In fact, it's only real predators are Sea Lions, Killer Whales, Sharks and Humans.
Often called the "giant floating head", the Sunfish looks like it lacks a true body. The other distinctive feature of the Mola Mola is its rather odd propulsion method. As it has no real body or tail with which to swim, the Sunfish has evolved larger than average dorsal and anal fins, which it moves from side to side in a "sculling" motion. It is this motion which can be used to distinguish the Mola Mola from a shark, especially as the Mola Mola is often seen swimming very near to the surface. The large size of these two fins can make the Sunfish as tall as it is long.
The skin of the Sunfish is filled with parasites. To be rid of these pesky stowaways, it visits cleaner fish such as reef fish, which eat the parasites. It also lies flat on the surface of the ocean, to allow seabirds to feed on the parasites. This sunbathing technique is also thought to be a way of warming the body after the long dives into the deeper, colder waters of the ocean. Finally, the Sunfish has been known to breach the surface of the ocean, splashing back down hard in an attempt to dislodge the parasites.
The first video below is from the National Geographic YouTube channel, while the second is of a talk by marine biologist Tierney Thys from the TED (Technology, Education, Design) website: www.ted.com She has also created the definitive Mola site called The Ocean Sunfish. This super site has loads of facts and figures, and also has a place where you can Adopt a Sunfish. Also, there is an extensive list of resources after the second video.
© James Edward Hughes 2011
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