9 Awesome Facts About Sunfish | Kayak Angler Magazine | Rapid Media
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A person scuba diving and taking a picture of a massive sunfish. Photo by Phillip Colla

"Sunfish" may not mean what you think it does.

Everyone knows everything about sunfish, right? The spunky speckled, little panfish are ubiquitous in freshwater ponds, creeks, lakes and rivers all over North America. But what about the other sunfish? The huge, mysterious, freakishly secretive, oceanic sunfish? You don’t know sunfish after all. 

• Oceanic sunfish, also called mola mola, get their name because they are often seen sunbathing on the surface of the water. Germans call the fish schwimmender kopf which means “swimming head”, and the Polish dubbed them samogłów, or “head alone”, because the sunfish looks like an enormous head without a body. In Latin, mola means grindstone.

• Sunfish bask on the surface before diving down to a depth of 2,600 feet in search of its favorite food: jellyfish.

• Molas are the largest bony fish in the world, weighing more than a Pontiac. The average ocean sunfish is 10 feet long and weighs 2,200 pounds, but have been known to tilt the scale at more than twice that weight. Juvenile sunfish can grow 800 pounds in their first year.

• Molas lay more eggs than any other vertebrate on earth, up to 300 million at one time. Sunfish fry resemble spiny pufferfish, which share the same scientific genus.

• According to Polynesian legend, eating a mola is bad luck. Many countries have banned the capture and sale of molas. However, the mola is considered a delicacy in some other countries.

• In 17th century Japan, Shoguns accepted molas as payment for taxes.

• Molas star in a popular Japanese video game. Survive Mola Mola boasts more than 6 million downloads.

• Ocean sunfish are often mistaken for sharks when they swim near the surface. If the dorsal fin is stationary, it’s a shark, which uses its tail for propulsion. If the dorsal fin bobs side to side, it’s a sunfish.

• Molas are parasite pantheons. They rely on “cleaning fish”, such as wrasses and seabirds, to remove them from their skin. Sometimes sunfish will jump several feet out of the water to dislodge the little pests.

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