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Mola sighting in Bali, Indonesia
Photo taken on Bali Scuba dive trip

How to increase your chances to see the wonderful Mola in Bali?

Mola season has started a bit earlier this year! Now we are entering full swing so how can we increase the chances of seeing our huge underwater friends? Also known as oceanic sunfish, or moonfish, here are the facts you need to know:

Here are five factors contribute to a successful sunfish sighting:

  • LOCATION: Mola are very mysterious animal they have been spotted randomly, but there are some world locations in which they periodically have been spotted: both Western and Eastern United States and Canada coasts, all Western European costs (mainly U.K., Portugal, Spain and Italy), South Africa, Northern part of New Zealand and Bali, Indonesia included. Nusa Penida and Bali are the perfect habitat of Mola Ramsayi. This huge bony fishes come to the surface to be cleaned from parasite and enjoy a bit of sunshine. The most popular locations are Crystal Bay in Nusa Penida (even if they have been spotted in the Northern dive sites of the Island too), and in Bali in the South Eastern costs especially in Gili Mimpang and Gili Biaha.

 

  • DM: For sure a good key to a successful encounter is a good DM. A Dive Master that knows the location and the currents, a professional that will lead you in the right spot (then of course a good dose of luck too, we are talking about wild nature here!).

 

  • DEPTH: Truth is Sunfish have been spotted both in great depth and on the surface. Specifically here in Bali the average encounter it is below 20 mt. of depth and that is because mostly this sea monsters need strong currents with cold water and these conditions can be easily found in Nusa Penida and Bali thermoclines. So if you are not yet an Advanced Diver then I will recommend to get your certification before you will try a Mola hunt! Even better if you will actually hold a Deep Specialty so to know exactly what to expect at depth.

 

  • SEASONALITY: Bali and Nusa Penida sighting are mainly between July and October. This year the Mola season started early and all June has had many sightings in different sea conditions. Sunfish are creatures of the abyss and they normally need quite cold waters, but recently they have been spotted with water close to 27°C!

 

  • NITROX: this factor might be controversial. If you are Nitrox certified you know that diving with a higher percentage of O2 in your tank make you subject to depth restrictions due to CNS Oxygen Toxicity: the higher is the content of Oxygen in the tank, the shallower will be your Maximum Depth Allowed. On the other side Nitrox allows you to stay at a certain depth longer so to be able to search for longer or to take a video or pictures of the elusive creature without incurring into Decompression Time. First of all only Nitrox Certified divers should use this option and even then the best will be having 28% to 30% O2 in the tank so to be able to descent to a maximum depth of 38.4 mt. with 28%O2 and 35.2 Mt with 30% O2. REMINDER: remember that with Nitrox you cannot randomly follow a Mola that could easily descend to 36 mt. or deeper in a split of second!

 

Fun and scientific facts on Mola:

 

  • When it hatches, a sunfish is the size of a pinhead but will grow to be the heaviest bony fish in the ocean—and one of the most bizarre.

 

  • A female Mola or ocean sunfish produces more eggs than any other vertebrate on earth. One modest-sized female had an estimate 300 million eggs inside her.

 

  • At birth, the baby fish are protected by a star-shaped transparent covering that looks like someone put an alien head inside of a Christmas ornament—albeit a very small only a tenth of an inch across:

Mola mola larva

Mola Mola larva. Photo: G. David Johnson under a Creative Commons license

 

  • The baby will grow fast. Very fast. One individual in the Monterey Bay Aquarium gained 822 pounds in just 15 months (almost 2 pounds a day).

 

  • By the time they reach adolescence, the fish will have not tail fin, no ribs, a fused spine, and will swim by flapping its dorsal fin on the top and its anal fin on the bottom.

 

  • Mola have unusual teeth that are fused together inside a mouth they never close.

 

  • More than 50 species of parasites have been recorded on and inside Mola. That is the reason why they need periodical cleanings.

 

  • Like sharks and rays, the female are far bigger than the males. The heaviest Mola on record is a female caught in 1996 that weighed 5,071 pounds (2,300 kg).

 

  • Currently, four species are recognized: the common sunfish Mola Mola (Linnaeus 1758); sharp-tailed sunfish/mola Masturus lanceolatus (Lienard 1840); slender sunfish/mola ´ Ranzania laevis (Pennant 1776); and short sunfish/mola Mola ramsayi (Giglioli 1883). Two additional Mola species, Mola sp. A and Mola sp. C, have been suggested and await formal naming.

 

  • Mola Ramsayi (native of Nusa Penida and Bali) has a wide thermal range with relatively even occupation of temperatures between 10 and 27.5∘ C and depths from the surface to 250 m. Dive depths can extend below 400 m, with the previous depth record being 483 m reported from a submersible sighting in the Indian Ocean off Australia.

 

  • Sunfish spend up to half the day basking in the sun near the surface of the water, which helps warm their bodies up after deep water dives to hunt and allow seagulls to feed on their parasites.

 

  • According to marine biologist Tierney Thys’ site OceanSunfish.org, Polynesians called the sunfish “King of Mackerel.” It was considered bad luck to kill sunfish, lest their loss prevent mackerel from making their way to the islands.

 

  • Sunfish are considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, including Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. In the EU, regulations ban the sale of fish and fishery products derived from the family Molidae.

 

  • The name Mola comes from the Latin word for “millstone.” It’s named for its gray, round body, and rough texture. (From English-Latin Dictionary: mola {noun feminine}: large round stone used for grinding grain).

 

  • The German term for a sunfish is Schwimmender Kopf, meaning “swimming head,” a pretty apt description of their appearance. The Polish name for sunfish is samogłów, or “head alone.”

 

  • Scientists used to think that sunfish were relatively inactive, spending their days sunbathing and feeding on jellyfish. However, despite their goofy appearance, sunfish are active predators with discerning tastes who travel several miles per day. In a recent study, scientists observed sunfish feeding solely on the most energy-rich parts of jellyfish—the gonads and the arms (yum!)—while leaving the less nutritious bell behind. They also occasionally eat small fish and zooplankton.

 

  • During the 1600s and 1700s, Japanese Shoguns accepted sunfish as payment for taxes.

 

  • A mobile game called Survive! Mola Mola! has more than 6 million downloads in Japan. It revolves around nurturing an ocean sunfish, like Tamagotchi for weird-shaped marine life.

 

  • Adult sunfish are vulnerable to few natural predators, but sea lions, killer whales, and sharks will consume them. A new studies shows that because of the decreasing of shark population 21st century might be a good one for this vulnerable species.

 

  • They are the namesake of the world’s most popular sailboat. The Sunfish, first developed in the late 1950s, was designed to be something like a surfboard with a sail on it. In 1995, it was inducted into the American Sailboat Hall of Fame as the most popular fiberglass boat ever sold.

 

Sources: National Geographic, sunfish.org, Nature.org, 14 Fascinating Facts About Ocean Sunfish

BY SHAUNACY FERRO

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