Showing posts tagged as "ocean sunfish"
The ocean sunfish and by-the-wind sailor are so nice, scientists named them twice! Watch as a Mola mola munches a Velella velella! Thanks to staffers Anneliese Kupfrian and Patrick Webster for the great video!
Gone in one gulp! The tiny “by-the-wind-sailors” that have been appearing on area beaches also happen to be a favorite snack of the enormous ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which can grow to be the size of a small car! (photo by Jodi Frediani)
By-the-wind sailors (Velella velella) are actually hydroid polyps—jelly-like invertebrates.The “sail” helps propel the animal on its journey across the ocean. In late spring and early autumn, hundreds of thousands of these drifting sailors wash up on the beaches of Northern California.
The velella stays on the surface of the open ocean for most of its life. To remain buoyant in the ocean, it has a series of sealed air chambers in its float. They travel in groups of thousands, and capture small fish with short tentacles that have stinging cells dangling underwater. (Although their sting is strong enough to stun a tiny animal, a human being would barely feel it.)
Learn more about the ocean sunfish
Bizarre? Or beautiful? The ocean sunfish is a visitor fave. You can help save molas by reducing use of disposable plastic bags. When these wind up in the ocean, they look like jellies—a mola’s favorite meal.
Back to the Wild: Releasing an Ocean Sunfish
Visitors love seeing ocean sunfish (Mola mola) when we have them in the Open Sea exhibit. As with great white sharks, they’re majestic – and temporary – members of our living collection. They’re with us for a while, then destined for return to the wild.
So, what happens when they leave? Where do they go?
Finally, we’re starting to get some answers.
Since 2008, we’ve tagged and tracked 17 ocean sunfish – nine that were caught and released in the wild, and four others tagged after they’d been with us at the aquarium, either on exhibit or behind the scenes. We’ve also collaborated with colleagues in Japan to tag four of the 17 several Mola mola on their side of the Pacific Ocean: three in the wild and one released by a Japanese aquarium.
A dozen tags reporting
Twelve of the 17 tags have reported back, and we’re gaining new insights into the sometimes far-ranging travels of ocean sunfish. Consistently, the sunfish tagged in Monterey Bay headed south and sometimes far offshore after release. Many tags popped up off as far south as Baja California or San Diego.
The information is limited for now, since the ocean sunfish released from our exhibit have carried 28-day tracking tags and wild-tagged sunfish 180-day tags. But it’s encouraging in other ways.
“We’ve learned that animals we bring to the aquarium are surviving after release,” says Senior Aquarist Michael Howard, the project lead in our ocean sunfish program. “That’s huge, and gives us confidence as we continue to work with them in the future.”
So much to learn
It’s just one element of what we’re learning about the Mola mola – the largest bony fish in the ocean.
“Not every sunfish we collect adapts to conditions in the Open Sea exhibit,” Michael explains. “In those cases, we’ll hold the animals off site as part of other ongoing studies, including our work to document how rapidly they grow.”
We know they grow quickly. One sunfish we successfully released was collected in October 2011 when it was just under two feet long and weighed 25 pounds. When we released it in Monterey Bay a year later, it weighed 421 pounds and was almost five feet long!
The next tag?
Our Mola mola tagging efforts will continue, Michael says. In 2014, we hope to tag up to four more wild ocean sunfish in Monterey Bay, as well as others we release from the aquarium. That could include the sunfish we placed on exhibit in October.
We hope that additional data we collect will document “some baseline or normal behavior that we can compare with the behavior of animals that we release from our exhibit and from aquariums in Japan,” Michael says.
That way, these odd-looking and incredibly popular fish can continue to inspire people to care more – and do more – to protect their ocean homes. And they’ll keep teaching us when we release them back to the wild.
New Mola in Town!
There’s a new ocean sunfish on exhibit in the Open Sea.
Our Husbandry team added the sunfish (Mola mola) over the weekend and it’s acclimated very quickly. It’s swimming well and makes a beeline to the surface to feed when our staff puts a colored target in the water as a signal that it’s mealtime.
We collected the sunfish in Monterey Bay on September 11, when it was just over 2 feet long and weighed nearly 32 pounds. On October 25, when it went on exhibit, it was 2 ½ feet long and weighed 46 pounds – quite a growth spurt!
Then again, the Mola mola – its Latin name, which means “millstone” – DOES tend to get big. It’s the largest bony fish on Earth, with some individuals topping out at 5,000 pounds. One sunfish we exhibited grew to weigh nearly 900 pounds before we returned it to the wild, with the help of a helicopter.
We’ve temporarily moved our two green sea turtles behind the scenes to help the sunfish adjust to its new surroundings. Before it gets too large, we’ll fit the sunfish with a tracking tag and release it in Monterey Bay. Based on results from other sunfish we’ve released, it will do well and travel far.
(© Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder)
Does this look like a fish designed by a committee? Some people think so! You’ll be glad to know this 200-pound ocean sunfish, or mola mola, is back on exhibit after a brief time behind the scenes.
How do you buff a 54-foot exhibit window? Our experts toil through the night so you can go eye-to-eye with an ocean sunfish. Learn more in our latest podcast!
Love the ocean sunfish, or mola mola? Some people think it looks like a fish designed by a committee, with a broad body and abbreviated tail section. Molas hatch from tiny eggs but grow to weigh more than a pickup truck. You can see one in our Open Sea exhibit!
We recently moved our 300-pound ocean sunfish (mola mola) behind the scenes, and replaced it with a beautiful, 38-pound animal in our Open Sea exhibit.
Did you know that molas are the world’s largest bony fish, reaching 14 feet in length and tipping the scales at an SUV-like 5,000 pounds? Its Latin name, fittingly, means “millstone.”
Our molas are also “target-trained,” which means they learn to associate a red-and-white striped ball with food, and come over as soon as it’s placed in the water. This ensures they aren’t “out-competed” by faster, more aggressive fish.
You can watch our new mola live on our live web cam!
Moving the Ocean Sunfish into Our New Exhibit
What does it take to move a 352-pound ocean sunfish into our new Open Sea exhibit? Lots of people, some powerful equipment, and a great deal of care! This fish has grown from 34 pounds to its current weight at the Aquarium, and you can see it now on exhibit.