Ugly Fish! We think not!
|Ocean sunfish left side up.|
The ocean sunfish, Mola mola, is a very unusual and odd looking fish that migrates each summer and fall to feed in the coastal waters of New England. Many people call them "Ugly Fish" but they are truly a beautiful fish and a long-distance migrator that moves from wintering grounds in tropical waters to summer feeding grounds in more northern waters. They are classified as the heaviest bony fish in the world with adults reaching lengths of up to 8 to 10 feet and weighing close to 1 to 2 tons.
Ocean sunfish that feed off New England are probably juveniles, given their small size when compared to adults. We assume that these young animals are attracted to our cold, productive waters to feed on jellyfish, ctenophores and other gelatinous critters which are very abundant off New England in late summer and early fall.
Why ocean sunfish strand each fall remains a mystery, but many individuals observed in the process of stranding appear to be healthy animals that are unfortunately in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many are feeding close to shore and in tidal areas as the tide ebbs, or goes out. This is a dangerous situation for an ocean sunfish for they can easily get pushed closer to shore and into shallow areas by offshore winds and high waves.
What we have found through our efforts to study and save this fish is that ocean sunfish are harmless and can be safely handled in order to float them into deeper water. Even though individuals observed off New England are typically 5 to 6 feet in length, their disc-like body allows them to be floated and moved in as little as a few inches of water.
However, the skin of the ocean sunfish is abrasive and this species produces copious amounts of mucous in order to deter external parasites from attaching. Therefore, always best to wear gloves or some type of hand protection whenever touching or handling this fish. Once an individual strands on a beach or on a mudflat, these large and heavy fish are difficult, if not impossible, to move unless you have 3 or 4 able bodies ready to assist.
Last month, Jan Albaum and Harry Cerino rescued an ocean sunfish that was in the process of stranding off their beach in Wellfleet. You can read more about this amazing rescue by visiting our NECWA News Blog by clicking HERE. We want to thank them for their efforts on that animal's behalf. Their quick actions allowed them to safely get this animal back into deeper water and out of harms way.
So please keep an eye out for any live or dead animals, especially those in need of assistance. Feel free to contact Krill via her cell phone (508-566-0009) at any time.
Live ocean sunfish, left side up, with dorsal fin raised as it skulls.