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British Marine Life Study Society

  Ocean Sunfish
 

A typical view of a Sunfish off St. David's Head south-west Wales
Photograph by Paul Howells

Sunfish are frequently seen off the south and west of Wales

More Sunfish from Cornish Seas
(Cornwall Wildlife Trust Sightings Page)
 

Sunfish (Photograph by David Riordan)
Common Name(s):
  Sunfish
 Scientific Name:
   Mola mola
 Family:
 Usual Size:to 3 metres
  to 36.3 kg

UK Record Weights from rod/line: 
Shore:
49 lb 4 oz (22.34 kg)
Fisherman's Cover, Cornwall. MGH Merry, 1976 
Boat:
108 lb (48.99 kg) off Saundersfoot, Wales. TS Sisson, 1976 
Washed up:

Fishbase Entry


 

The background photograph is a study provided by Simon Cary (from England) now residing in Wilmington, South Carolina, USA, off Wrightsville beach, North Carolina on the Atlantic coast of the United States, where these fish are frequently see as close in as 200 metres from the shore. The photograph was taken by Susan LeMasters.

  Fishbase Illustrations (Link)
 
 

Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola

This unusual portrait of the large and unusual Sunfish was taken by diver David Riordan snorkelling in the seas off Belmullet, County Mayo. This fish is usually seen on the surface of the sea often lying at an oblique angle and underwater images are uncommon. 
 

The Sunfish is the heaviest known bony fish in the world. It is an oceanic pelagic traveller that feeds on jellyfish and salps. Most records are from off the south and west coats of Ireland and the British Isles, but there are plenty record off Scotland and its islands and in 2012 reports of Sunfish were received from off Sussex and one was even discovered in Dover Harbour

Ocean Sunfish (Wikipedia)
Sunfish (Fishbase Entry)

The biology and ecology of the ocean sunfish Mola mola:
a review of current knowledge and future research
perspectives


Identification:
These fish are large with a flat body shaped roughly like a slightly elongated disk.  They are greyish and have a long fin above and below the body.  The body on the ones I saw was perhaps 1.5 metres (5 feet) long and the fins more than 60 cm (2 feet) long.  I understand they can get much larger.  They are apparently no good to eat which, given how easy they would be to hunt, is just as well.  Brian Stone
 

However, the most memorable sighting was from the boat, when we spotted a Sunfish, Mola mola. These are oceanic fish, weak swimmers which are successfully carried to south-western Britain by the Gulf Stream. They are most peculiar looking fish, deep bodied and laterally compressed, and look as if the back half of the body is missing entirely; it ends abruptly in a sort of frill, and there is no tail. 

The Sunfish swims by sculling itself along with two huge triangular fins and we first saw the dorsal fin sticking up out of the water and flopping slowly from side to side. It swam slightly zigzag and at an irregular speed, moving forward as the fin flopped one way, slowing almost to a halt, then moving forward again as it flopped the other way. It was presumably propelled by the submerged anal fin.                          Jane Lilley 
 

Almost circular body profile when viewed side on (i.e. the vertical longitudinal plane), although compressed in the horizontal longitudinal plane. The head is roughly a third of the total body length, with a small mouth fronted by large fused teeth. A small gill slit is to be found located just in front of the small pectoral fin. The eyes are approximately half way between the mouth and the pectoral fin, although slightly higher than their vertical position.
Both the dorsal and anal fins, are narrow and greatly elongated, to about the same degree. They are set towards the posterior of the body, and fuse at their bases with the greatly diminished tail fin, which appears only to be a thickened posterior fringe. Coloration ranges from a brownish grey/blue, that pales towards the belly.
Text by Phil Whiting
Source:  FISH INDEX  http://www.uk-fish.info/Index.html

The caudal fin is truncated.

Only a couple of the records detailed on the Cornwall Wildlife Trust web page give sizes. One is a small 40 cm the other is described as 1 m long and 1.5 m across fins.
The ones that I've seen off the Cornish coast at Pendeen, Cape Cornwall and Porthgwarra have all been between 1 m and 2 m long and 1 m and 1.5 m across the fins. This is all pretty approx. but gives a rough idea of the size. They have all been on their sides.
Fisher people that I have spoken to say that they swim on their side as they conserve energy by drifting and that they also 'enjoy' warmth. Perhaps some type of thermoregulatory behaviour?

Cheers,
Vince Smith.
EMail: pendeen2002@yahoo.co.uk

A Sunfish, Mola mola, weighing 363 kg, was washed up on Tayside, Scotland, in 1960.

Size:
From "There are Giants in the Sea" Michael Bright
ISBN 0 86051 481 1

page 190
mentions a fish (probably Sunfish) under 8 feet in length. Scottish West Coast, August 1950.

page 189
early 1950's, Plymouth research vessel "Discovery" off  the Azores observed a possible Sunfish 10 feet (3.1m) by 8 feet (2.4m)

1908
SS Fiona off Bird Island, Australia had its port propeller snagged and stopped by a Sunfish 3.1 m x 4.3 m (10x 14 feet) weighing 2,235 kg.

page 33
has a picture from the archive of Glasgow University

of a large Sunfish (at a guess 1.5 m long) which was exhibited at the Scottish Oceanographical Society. Caught north east of the Falkland Islands. No date given, guess at pre WW II.
Also Museum of Scotland picture of the Sunfish on board a vessel.

  I
n a manuscript in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (Royal Library) in the Hague, written by Adriaen Coenen in 1584 a sunfish is mentioned and figured, caught 14 October 1583 "behind England" (Irish Sea?) by two fishermen from Zierikzee, a fishing town in the south-west of The Netherlands.
Size about 60 cm.
Another sunfish mentioned in the manuscript was washed ashore near The Hague on 12 December 1565, 8 feet long and 6 feet high. The entrails were taken to prepare the fish for conservation. The fish was so heavy that eight strong man had difficulty to put the fish on a wagon. The conservation was not successful. Similar species: 
Breeding: 

Habitat:
Tropical / subtropical fish of open oceans.

Food:
Salps, jellyfish, and comb jellies, and jellyfish-like hydrozoans including Velella

Parasites:
 From: "dennis" <raydennis1@hotmail.co.uk>
Subject: Sunfish

If you approach a sunfish lying on or near the surface slowly in a small boat it is possible to pick it up and take it into the boat. Divers of our club have done this and have collected some of its parasites for me to examine before returning it to the water. One of its parasites recently collected was a tiny crab-like creature about 5 mm across (and there were hundred of these on the 1 metre [3 ft] diameter fish) a copepod called Lepeophtheirus nordmanni. If you try it, you will find the fish quite slimy but I would like to examine any parasites you find. 
 Ray Dennis

Range:
Some of the observations are listed on the Seaquest SW (Cornwall Wildlife Trust web pages).

Historical records show that it was at one time hunted by Aran Islanders, with the aid of harpoons.                            Phil Whiting

Link to the Sussex Records  (from the late John Barker)



Reports (earliest at the top):
 
 
  • November 1998
  • A large Sunfish, Mola mola, was washed up dead on Gibraltar Point beach, near Skegness, Lincolnshire. This specimen of a normally large fish weighed an estimated 68 kg (150 lb) and measured just over a metre long (3½ ft). The height, including the fins was 1.38 metres (4½ ft). These fish tend to be infected with parasites. This specimen had over 100 tapeworms in its gut.

  • On the west coast the Sunfish is reported several times every year, and not unusual enough for every single entry to be included in these News Reports. We still like to hear of observations of this fish. It is rarer in the North Sea. Off Dorset a specimen has even been seen by a diver underwater.
    Gibraltar Point is a sandy spit at the top of the Wash. There is a field station there belonging to Leeds University and it is used by many bird watchers etc. 
  • Report by Andy Colls (Chesterfield) 
  • On 5 March 1997, a very small Sunfish, Mola mola, measuring only about 50 cm x 50 cm, was reported by Jon Makeham from Looe, Cornwall., washed up dead and already scavenged. Large Sunfish are usually reported in summer and small ones occasionally, notably off west Scotland.
    A large Sunfish, Mola mola, is netted by a fisherman off the Butt of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, in September 1997.
     

    Bionomics:

    Subject: Re: Sunfish

    Lying on their sides is pretty normal for sunfish - I've heard kids climb on and run across the huge specimens that exist in the tropics.

    But why do they do it?

    Maybe just because they're such a low energy highly defended type of strategy that it's not worth the effort staying upright.
    "Nick Tregenza" <nick@chelonia.demon.co.uk>

    Web Sites:

    Philip Colla Photography
    http://www.oceanlight.com/html/mola_mola.html

    http://www.earthwindow.com/mola.html

    australian museum online
    http://www.austmus.gov.au/fish/fishenq/mola.htm

    Reports:

    Chronological listings with the earliest at the top

    6 July 2000
       From: "dennis" <raydennis1@hotmail.co.uk>
    Subject: Sunfish

    Sunfish are seen off the coast of Penwith each year, the earliest is usually in July. This year so far there have been two reports, one off Lamorna on May 14th and another off Penzer Point on June 18th, is this another sign of global warming?  In 1999 there were 4 sightings between the 1st July and Sept.9th. all along the south coast of Penwith.  On 24th August 1997 the crew of a dive boat belonging to the Penzance B.S.A.C returning from the Isles of Scilly saw at least 12, so there were probably dozens if not hundreds between the mainland and Scillies on that day.
    Ray Dennis 
    Cornish Marine Wildlife Reports 1999 (by Ray Dennis)

    3 October 1999
    Three Sunfish, Mola mola, were spotted near St. Ives, Cornwall. 

    Reports of the Sunfish from off Cornish shores are frequent during the summer months. In British seas  they vary in size from 40 cm to nearly two metres in length, but they can grow considerably larger. Almost all specimens are spotted lying on their sides in the surface water. Some of the observations are listed on the Seaquest SW (Cornwall Wildlife Trust web pages).

       From: "Brian Stone (Rebus Media)" <Brian.Stone@rebusmedia.com>
    Subject: RE: Sunfish
     

    Ocean Sunfish
    A large Sunfish was observed by myself and numerous excited holidaymakers in the channel outside Polperro (Cornwall) harbour on August 2nd this year. Diameter approx. 1.5m, swimming lazily on its side just below the surface, I watched it for some 45 minutes before it (presumably) left. The skin appeared to be badly scarred and pitted overall, but the fish was not showing signs of obvious distress.
    Jon Makeham

    A Sunfish was observed by myself, Frederick Biddulph, John Mortimer, and Gerald Allen, while fishing west of Innishbofin, Connemara, Co Galway Ireland, on 29 Aug. 2000.  The fish was on its side and  it seemed to be splashing it's dorsal fin. It dived as the boat approached.
    Peter Biddulph
     
     

    Had superb views of several close to St Ives Island a couple of weeks ago.
    The closest were just off Porthgwidden Beach.  These were mostly swimming upright but also at an angle and I don't remember any completely on their sides.  The combination of clear water, high waves and a raised vantage point meant the whole fish was often clearly visible under the water.

    The presence of a sunfish was often indicated by gulls collecting around the surface.  One was observed clearly allowing Gulls to peck at its body -perhaps removing parasites.  Could it be that they swim on their sides at the surface in order to attract birds for this purpose?

    They also frequently swam with the long dorsal fin one third to a half exposed above the surface producing an effect like a small wavy shark fin.  This fin would occasionally be waved higher out of the water and they would also push their nose clear of the water.

    For those who don't know these fish are large with a flat body shaped roughly like a slightly elongated disk.  They are greyish and have a long fin above and below the body.  The body on the ones I saw was perhaps 1.5 metres (5 feet) long and the fins more than 60 cm (2 feet) long.  I understand they can get much larger.  They are apparently no good to eat which, given how easy they would be to hunt, is just as well.
    Brian Stone


    I saw what I now know to be a Sunfish, off the Pembrokeshire coast over the August Bank Holiday of 1999.

    I was observing Grey Seals and Choughs from the cliffs of Deer Park opposite Skomer Island, SW Wales, when I saw a large grey / brown dorsal fin splashing in the water.  It then disappeared underwater but shortly afterwards, a 'short, fat, grey surfboard with wings' appeared swimming nearby.  Intrigued, I followed the 'thing' along the coast watching it as it swam very slowly just below the surface.  It was much larger that the seals I had been observing -I'd estimate it to at least 8 feet long (nearly 2.5 metres).

    No one I talked to could give a name to what I had seen and I soon forgot about it until I saw a wildlife programme about sharks on the TV in December, which included a brief tantalising shot of a 'Sunfish'.  My mystery (and lingering doubts about exactly what I had seen) was solved!

    I've dived all around the world and seen many aquatic sights but nothing as unearthly as the Sunfish!

    Lesley Sale  (Banbury)

    I saw an Ocean Sunfish on the 3rd of September 2000 about one mile off the coast situated between Harlech and Barmouth (Cardigan Bay) in north Wales at first I saw one of its fins of which i thought it was a piece of flotsam but it seemed to be moving in circles so we went closer  in the boat until we were right next to it and turned the engines off we watched it for a couple of minutes and at first I thought it was an injured Basking Shark that had been in an accident with a boat propellor until today when we visited the Blue Planet Aquarium in Cheshire were the had a plastic replica 
    From: "Roger Heginbotham" <roger@hegie.freeserve.co.uk>


    Message: 5
       Date: Sun, 6 Aug. 2000 13:51:19 +0100
       From: "Stella Turk" <stella@reskadinnick.fsnet.co.uk>
    Vince Smith's One-List/Cornish Wildlife
    Subject: Re Ocean Sunfish
    30 July 2000
    Malcolm Lee has given me some observations from a local fisherman.  These included the sighting of five Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) seen off Port Gaverne in Port Isaac Bay ) on 30.7/2000.  We are gathering any records of this species which seems to be increasing in numbers as well as its range in space and  through the months of the year.

    Often these fishes lie close to the surface, and are thought to be sick or just less active in our cool (albeit warming) waters.  Although they will often allow themselves to be touched, or even lifted out of the water (as Raymond Dennis has described) , at other times they will move off at astonishing speed.  This quintet was actually leaping out of the water, an activity well attested by a few other observers at different times, but not mentioned in any published account that I can find (I have not so far quizzed the Net).  Any sightings of these massive species and notes on its behaviour will be welcomed. The Port Gaverne individuals were reckoned to be 4' long which would probably be average for our waters.  The world record size is probably 11 feet long and 10 feet across the fins and the British record seems to be 6' 6" across the fins - but my information may be out of date. It is certainly the heaviest of the bony fishes.

    Incidentally it is called an 'Ocean' Sunfish to distinguish it from the perch-like freshwater sunfishes of North America.  We do have another marine species, called the Truncated Sunfish (Ranzania laevis) which is a very rare visitor to the waters of the far SW of Britain.

    Stella Turk

    Gulls often accompany Sunfish. are they picking off the parasites?
    Cornish One-List Digest 481


    A Sunfish was seen today (9th August 2000) in South Cardigan Bay, West Wales. It was about 1 mile offshore and off Ynys Lochtyn headland.(near a village called Llangrannog - I can look up the OS Grid reference if it would help)

    It was identified by a skipper on a visitor pleasure boat that was doing trips to see the resident Bottlenose Dolphins that live in this area. Incidentally Dolphins (with a calf) were seen in the vicinity at the same time.

    During our regular shore based dolphin watches we have often seen Sunfish, but this is the first one we've heard of this year.

    Hope this is of interest.

    Julie Hopkins
    New Quay Dolphin Monitoring Group

    26 August 2000
    Just a quick note to say that today I and some work friends saw a medium sized Sunfish, a little smaller than a bread crate (60 cm x 60 cm). It was about a mile off  Caldey (Pembrokeshire, SW Wales) and it turned on its side as if to look at us with its eye out of the water. We watched it for about 10 minutes and then left it to go on its way. Its the first unusual sighting all summer around here unfortunately.

    Sincerely,

    Will Thomas

    On Thursday 24 August 2000 on a hot sunny day, whilst standing at the tip of St David's Head in Pembrokeshire with my two children we spotted something floating just below the surface of the sea 16 metres (fifty feet) from the shore.  At first we thought it to be a seal but since it did not break surface or make any apparent movement, assumed it to be flotsam.  However, after a few minutes we noticed it had moved closer to the rock ledge on which we stood. We could now see it was a large fish roughly circular in shape which Photograph by Dale Edmunds (see the Isle of Wight Report further down the page.)was lying on it's side. On occasion the sun caught it and it flashed in the sun, though it was mostly grey in colour. The fish moved/floated to within ten feet of the shore and we could now clearly see it's shape with a short stubby tail and it's dorsal fin. It was the approximate size of a dust bin lid, say 80 cm in diameter. The dorsal fin projected 15 cm (six inches) from the water. We did not see the anal fin but by now it was adopting a more vertical position. The fish then actively swam away in a southwesterly direction toward Ramsey Sound, we watched it's dorsal fin waving from side to side as it moved.  I took some photo's with my daughter's camera which we have yet to develop.  If you are interested (and if they come out!) I'll scan and send them to you.

    Regards

    Phillip Osborne
    30 Beaufort Avenue
    Leamington Spa
    Warwickshire.


    18 June 2000.
    A small Sunfish was seen in Poole Bay (about 1.5 miles south of Bournemouth).  The weather was very hot and sunny, with a slight easterly wind and a gentle flood tide (i.e. running east north east).  The fish was approximately 50 cm overall length (visual estimate) and was swimming in the direction of the current, at the surface with
    its dorsal fin exposed.  It was clearly visible through the surface of the water, which was quite clear.  As it passed into the shadow of the boat it dived, and was not seen again.
    Mike Markey


    11 August 2000
       From: Vincent Smith <pendeen2002@yahoo.co.uk>

    Three Sun Fish were seen from the Scillonian on its crossing to the Isles of Scilly this morning. the following site has lots of reports. You can use the Search function to find all entries. 
    Cornish One-List Digest 483


    Irish Reports

    I was sailing past Dursey Island, Co. Cork at the end of June when I saw a Sunfish.  We were positioned between the Bull and Cow Islands when we first spotted its fin waving in the air.  This was my first ever sighting.  It moved very slowly and seemed totally unbothered by our presence.  It was small compared to the reports I've read.  I would guess about a metre long, about the same (it seemed) in depth.  I was particularly struck by the eyes, which seemed large and more mammal-like.

    On arrival in Dingle I asked a local fisherman what I had seen and he told me it was a sunfish.  He said that they saw them occasionally offshore but had not known them so close to land before.  I have not seen any since although I live and sail in this area all the time.
    Martin Dooney


    Also, a 1 metre diameter Sun Fish has stranded (dead) on the shore at North Kessock, Inverness. The fish is very fresh, have been seen alive yesterday in the area by a local. Scottish Agricultural College Stranding Coordinator has been informed and will attend. These unusual fish are being seen around Scottish waters more frequently. (2000)

    17 August 2000
    A 4 kg Sunfish was caught on rod and line from the shore at Shields Road (not sure of the location) NE England. This report has not been verified. 

    27 May 2001
    I was on a mackerel fishing/sighting seeing small boat (with 8 others) about 1/2 mile out from Lyme Regis harbour, Dorset,  on Sunday 27th May 2001. The captain spotted what he said was a Sunfish and (after pulling in the lines!) we spent about 5 minutes following it. The sea was rough so we couldn't get a good sighting of the fish other than its fin although we could see that it was very approximately around 60 - 90 cm (2-3 ft) long. The fin was around 20 cm long.

    Reading the description of how the sunfish moves from your website, I am sure the captain was correct is his identification. The fish flapped away slowly when we got close but soon stopped and went back to floating and flapping its fin occasionally. Even when trying to evade us, it never went more than a few feet below the surface.

    Tom Parker


    I note your request for Mola mola sightings and
    wonder if you are aware of the following:-
    20th May 2001        1    Off Sennen  SW3526
    28th May                 1    Gwennap Head SW368215
    21st June                 1    Mayon Cliff SW349260.    Within 30 ft of rocks
    at base of cliff below lookout
    23rd June                 1    Off Mousehole SW470263.     Small only 12" to
    15" across.
    26th June                 1    From Scillonian III        at 1115 hrs (Would
    be half way across by that time)
    29th June                 1    From Scillonian III        at 0940
     Probably in Runnelstone area)
    13th July    at least 9    Pentire Head SW936814.  Between Rumps and Mouls.
    19th July                  1    Hayle River mouth. SW554387.   Breached in
    Rock Pool.  Released back into river.

    Report by Ray Dennis



    Jack Rushton with the Sunfish (Photograph by Dale Edmunds)Off the Isle of Wight
    Aboard charter boat 'Sundance', skippered by Roger Bayzand (pic with Sunfish) and the crew of nine from the Isle of Wight, were lucky enough to observe a small Sunfish in near flat calm conditions on29 July 2001. Noticing the fin movement from a distance, then changing course to have a closer look did not seem to spook the fish away. The decision was made to carefully net the fish for closer inspection and to take photographs. The fish demonstrated a change of pace when returned, by bolting into the depths. Notice the dramatic change of colouring when aboard the boat, this happened extremely quickly. 
    Dale Edmunds

      Jack Rushton with the Sunfish


    8 July 2001
    Small Sunfish seen near the Bucks (Lamorna, Cornwall) 8th July.  Jumped out of water a few times then seen cruising surface with fin up.  Disappeared before we could get in to photograph it.
    21 June 2001
    Seaquest recorder Barry Moreton has reported  a record number of the Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, off Pentire Headland (east side of the Camel Estuary), Cornwall. Within about 8 hours, whilst he was fishing from land, he counted 48 in groups of two or three, Douglas Herdson of the National Marine Aquarium, who is compiling records of this species for the whole of the British isles, says that 15  is the largest grouping of which he knows. 

    Coincidentally Terry Hocking who has been keeping careful notes of seal activity off the North Cliffs, has just given his notes to Cornwall Wildlife Trust together with observations on Sunfish.  He has noticed that gulls - seemingly always immature Herring Gulls  - frequently gather around  them.  If the gulls attentions are too insistent, the Sunfish will lunge at them, squirting water from its mouth! - and he has a video to prove it.  I can find no mention of this in the literature or on the World Wide Web (Internet) - indeed  in general there seem to be more questions than answers at present, although it seems certain that the Ocean Sunfish is becoming more frequent and extending its range in British waters.. 


    Seaquest SW (Cornwall Wildlife Trust web pages)
    National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth

    Message: 4
       Date: Thu, 27 Sep 2001 11:32:56 +0100
       From: "Mike King" <mkbr26277@cableinet.co.uk>
    Subject: Sunfish

    Hi folks
    we had an Ocean Sunfish off Pentire Head on the 8th September 2001. It was
    being pecked at by three Herring Gulls. We thought at the time that they
    would probably kill it. However after seeing last night's Blue Planet it was
    probably only using them for a clean-up. Fascinating Stuff!
    Best Regards
    Mike King
    The Gloster Birder http://www.birder.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk

    Message: 3
       Date: Wed, 26 Sep 2001 22:30:03 +0100
       From: "Shang-ri La" <stella@reskadinnick.fsnet.co.uk>
    Subject: Sunfish , moonfish and gulls

    Terry Hocking reports seeing an Ocean  Sunfish off Godrevy Head but close inshore today.  Is this the last one for season?  Please report any more sightings to Cornish Wildlife where they will be seen by Douglas Herdson and Ray Dennis.  This one had two seagulls nearby but was not 'inviting' attention from them.  Having just watched 'The Blue Planet', I was fascinated to see the Sunfish 'inviting'  a type of moonfish to clean off their parasites, and then allowing gulls to perform a similar service, as their bills can reach the places where the fish teeth can't.  A couple of weeks ago Terry and I  submitted an account to 'Seaquest Newsletter' of the gulls off the North Cliffs doing exactly this  But what Terry has noted and nobody else seems to have recorded is that when the fish have had enough attention they rebuff the gulls!  And he has a video showing the sunfish lunging and spitting at the gulls!!
    Stella Turk


    A short report to say North Devon - Ilfracombe - can claim a Sunfish sighting in 2001. We saw the telltale fine above the water, lazing in large circles just off shore from our lounge window about 100 metres from the mouth of Ilfracombe harbour. Our estimate of the size was about 1.5m fin tip to fin tip. A wonderful experience to see for the first time a truly fascinating marine creature.

    31 July 2002
    I just wanted to tell you that I have seen another sunfish from my window in Ilfracombe - almost a year to the date!

    I saw him (or her) on 31.7.02, it was midtide and a mixture of sun and cloud. He was only 15 metres out from shore and was a good size- easily a metre, possibly more. This time, instead of seeing just the dorsal fin as I did last year, I was alerted to his presence by a group of young seagulls clustered round something in the water. It was the sunfish, lying on his side so showing me the huge 'sun' disc and both fins - but the seagulls didn't scare him off. I would now agree with what I've read about birds cleaning the fish of parasites.  It would scare me with those big birds flying at me, but he didn't mind a bit!
    He hung around for 10 minutes and was off again.
     

    Cygnet Promotions
    Tel. 07721 843371

    12 October 2001
    David Blackford recorded seven Ocean Sunfish in St Ives Bay, Cornwall, from the west coming in on the rising tide, returning westward on the falling tide.. 
    Report by Stella Turk
    18 August 2002
    Whilst fishing about a mile ESE of Bournemouth pier, Dorset,  we saw an Ocean Sunfish swimming slowly with its dorsal fin out of the water. We followed it and observed it for several minutes whereupon it slowly dived and was lost to sight. The fish was approx.' 1.5 metres tall. Is this a rare sighting for the Dorset coast?
    Report by David Wilson


    13 September 2002
    My wife and I saw an Ocean Sunfish on the morning of 13 September 2002 off the Pembrokeshire coast near Abercastle.
    It was a clear sunny day and we were walking West on the cliff path from Abercastle and saw a slivery grey light coloured flat fish about 2m long and 1-1.5m across (observed it also through good binoculars). It was swimming on it's side on the surface about 100m out from the cliffs.
    At the time we had no idea what it was but was fascinated because it did not appear to have a tail, but had a long fin top and bottom (each side as it lay on the water) and a small shark like fin on the side (or top when on the water).  We thought it even might have been injured until it turned upright to dive, and then reappeared 50 metres away feeding or basking? After watching it for more than 15 minutes, we realised it was busy & healthy.
    We were puzzled by what we had seen and after searching the internet last week, having seen our first photo of one, we both agreed it was without doubt an Ocean Sunfish.


    23 October 2002
    Will this be the last Sunfish report of the year? Jean Lawman reports an Ocean Sunfish seen off Pendeen Watch, Cornwall. (SW 3735)
    David Blackford reports an Ocean Sunfish in St Ives Bay, Cornwall, on 25 October 2002.


    16 June 2003
    An Ocean Sunfish estimated to weigh 25 kg was spotted off the north coast of Jersey.


    20 June 2003
    David Blackford reports an Ocean Sunfish in St Ives Bay, Cornwall.  It was about a metre long, and think it is the first for the year. 

    14 July 2003
    One Ocean Sunfish of approximately 50 cm in length was spotted at midday at Combe Martin Bay, nr Combe Martin, North Devon. (SS 564 480)

    The fish was seen from rocks accessible only at low tide for a good 10 minutes swimming on the surface on its side in 20 ft of water. It had its mouth open whilst swimming slowly in large circles, coming within 15 ft of the rock where we were standing. The day was warm and the sea very calm so we had a very good view.

    The fish was observed by myself and two brothers whilst fishing, one of whom had seen a Sunfish before and recognised it.

    Report by  Tom Harrison


    20 July 2003
    Three Sunfish were seen off Skomer Island, Pembrokeshire . I saw one here in 2002 and one off the Blasket Islands (Ireland) many years ago. A voluntary warden on Skomer said about twelve had been seen this year.

    Report by Will Lewis
    26 July 2003
    Sun Fish spotted off Rhosneigr Anglesey UK on Saturday 26th July 2003 mid-afternoon when we were mackerel fishing.  It appeared to be about 4 stones in weight and about 3 -3.5 feet long.  First time we had viewed one and have had difficulty in identifying what we had seen.  Dave touched it when it was along side the boat before it dived down and surfaced further away.  We did not wish to ask the local fishermen what it was at the time in case they wanted to try to catch it.  Glad we have now identified it. 


    25 August 2003
    I spotted two Sunfish on Tuesday at 7:00 pm while Mackerel fishing just out of harbour at Abercastle, Pembrokeshire, SW Wales. They were both just over 1 metre (3 feet) long and were basking on their side, occasionally turning to put a fin in the air. The conditions were calm and they seemed to be enjoying the evening sun. They were surrounded by seagulls but they didnt seem to be worried by them or by our boat. 

    Report by Martin Jones


    2 September 2003
    A small Ocean Sunfish,Mola mola, approx 50 cm nose to tail, was encountered in rough water 1/2 mile north of Whitehills harbour, Scotland, this afternoon. This harbour is near  Banff in NE Scotland. 


    4 October 2003
    Whilst watching seabird migration from the observation point at Strumble Head, Pembrokeshire during the afternoon of Saturday the 4th October 2003, a group of ornithologists saw a solitary Sunfish, Mola mola,which was seen lying on its side fairly close inshore. Attention was drawn to it by a Black-backed Gull who appeared very interested in the fish. Those present with the expertise knowledge of this species surmised that the gull may have been attempting to rid the fish of parasites. During this day strong North to North Westerly winds were recorded at this location. 

    Report by Elfyn Pugh


    6 December 2003
    Although this is from south-east Spain, Bob Kingdom (Hull) reported the largest ever Sunfish their diving group had ever seen, measuring about two metres long and they estimate it would have taken about five people to lift it from the water.

    6 July 2004
    We were out in our Canadian Canoe and saw a small Sunfish - about two feet long between Porthgain and Trevine (Pembrokeshire). We have heard of many sightings previously in the area but not seen one personally. We identified it by its pronounced fin protruding from the water and it allowed us to circle round it several times very close for some excellent views with the sun shining through the water onto it. The sea was full of jellyfish at the time of all sizes -presumably it was feeding on these. It was not at all bothered by our presence and eventually decided to swim down and away from us under our canoe. We confirmed our suspicions that it was indeed a Sunfish by checking this site


    27 July 2004
    Having just sailed South through the Sound of Islay at about 12.30pm on Tuesday 27th July, in calm conditions, and set a course for the North end of Gigha we spotted a strange fin 'flopping from side to side in the water. We spent approximately 10 minutes following this fish. It did not seem overly concerned with our presence and only moved away when we were really close, resurfacing and carrying on its relaxed progress nearby. The fin appeared to be about 6 inches in length and not contributing to its progress through the water. My wife who was observing the fish from the bow of our boat got the impression of a fish of possibly 2 to 3 feet in length seen from above. difficult to judge depth or body mass.
    Neither of us had seen such a motion before and on our return home have come to the conclusion that we had seen a Sunfish.
    I would very much like to know whether this is a rare event or indeed if the above description could point to a different identification

    7 August 2004

    Sunfish (Photograph by Lee Ford)

    The Sunfish photograph was taken on 7th August 2004 about half a mile off Old Harry Rocks in Dorset. I spotted the Sunfish on the surface and I have seen them in the same area before. Normally when approached they swim  towards the bottom at high speed. This time the Sunfish swam towards the boat and even allowed me to touch it, it made no attempt to swim away. It swam around the boat a few times and came back to the swim platform again. I could see it had sea lice on its back and I guess it was trying to get them removed. The fish appeared to be in good health, a fantastic site to see.

    Report and Photograph by Lee Ford


    1 January 2005
    A Sunfish, Mola mola, was washed up on the beach at West Runton, near Sheringham, north Norfolk. 
     
    Sunfish (Photograph by Rupert Smith) Sunfish (Photograph by Rupert Smith)

    Although this fish is frequently seen off the south and western coasts of Britain during the summer and autumn, sightings and strandings in the North Sea are much less common.

    Report and Photographs by Rupert Smith


    17 July 2005
    A yacht out of Lyme Regis, Dorset, took avoiding action to narrowly miss a Sunfish

    Report by Shige Takezoe
    A Sunfish was spotted between Swanage and Studland, Dorset, about half a mile offshore at approximately 10.30 am. It was no more than 60 cm in length and moving very slowly. No sign of injury and happily swimming near the surface next to our motor boat on one of the calmest days of the year so far. More Sunfish from Cornish Seas

    8 August 2005 
    Whilst on board a sight seeing boat travelling back from the Island of Staffa off the Island of Mull, Argyll, Scotland. We were on a cruise boat run by Tarus Mara, which runs tours to Fingal's Cave on Staffa, returning to Ulva Ferry, when we spotted a Sunfish swimming North West in Loch Tuach...(sea loch).
    It was approximately 1 metre in diameter and seemed very healthy, turning on it's side to watch us as we came alongside, all passengers on the boat witnessed this unusual fish, which was icing on the cake to such a glorious sunny summers day.

    12 August 2005
    Whilst fishing the mid channel rocks near St. Annes Head, Milford Haven, Pembrokshire we spotted a Sunfish at the top of the water. A couple of seagulls were watching it which drew our attention to it. We motored past it to see what it was, as we brought the boat around for a second look it must have swam down as we lost sight of it. 
    We estimate that the fish was approximately 1 metre across and light grey in colour. At the time we did not know that it was a Sunfish.
    Report by David Gibbins


    16 - 26 August 2005
    On the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trustís yacht the Silurian, the crew seemed surprised by the number of Sunfish around. This gave me the impression that they are not normally seen around the Hebrides.

    Report by Abigail Phillis


    31 August 2005
    A large metre long Sunfish made the news by jumping into a small boat frisbee-style and scaring a young child at Little Haven, Pembrokeshore, south Wales. 

    September 2005
    I had two separate Sunfish sightings from Ardnamurchan Point, Argyll, Scotland, this September. They were both within 500 metres of the Point. Both on sunny daysÖI donít know if this is because they were easier to see with the sun reflecting from them or if they were at the surface because it was sunny. One of the Sunfish was flapping its fin out of the water, which attracted the attention of a Shag, that then came along and pecked it.
    Report by Abigail Phillis


    8 October 2005
    I caught a small Sunfish (approx 50 cm length  x 150 cm from end of fin to end of fin) off Porthcurno beach in Cornwall .  I first saw the fin flopping from side to side in about one metre of water less than 4 metres from the shore.  Thinking it was in distress (it seemed to be caught by the surf and unable to swim away from the beach), I paddled out to the fish and was able to pick it up to examine it more closely.  It was identified as a Sunfish by another person on the beach as I had no idea what this strange looking tail-less beast actually was.

    Report by Andrew Stokes


    20 July 2006
    During a routine aerial survey for marine wildlife off the most south-western tip of Cornwall, researchers from the University of Exeter School of Biosciences, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Cornwall Wildlife Trust counted 19 Sunfish, Mola mola, in two hours.

    Report on Fish Update


    11 December 2006
    A surprising discovery of an Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, from the Baltic coast of southern Sweden, means this fish must have navigated through the narrow parts of the Kattegat. It was a smallish specimen with a total length of 60 cm. 

    Report from Kent Andersson


    12 December 2006
    A large 20 kg  Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, was washed up dead on the north Kent coast. The height of this round fish was measured at 98 cm (including the fins). 

    Weight : 20.8 kg/45.75 lb
    Length : 760 mm (nose to tail)
    Height : 980 mm (fin to fin)
    Width  : 150 mm
    Location : 51deg 22.011min N
                  001deg 03.854min E


    13 December 2006
    An Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, was seen on alive off Porthgwarra, Cornwall. Is this the last record of the year for this species?

    13 July 2007
    In the  early evening, we saw six Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, just off shore at Slea Head east of Great Blasket Island, County Kerry, Southern Ireland. 16 July 2007  12:50 pm
    Drifting east with the tide 200 metres off Ventnor Cove in the calmer water a two metres long Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, swam so close to the rib that I was able to reach down and stroke it. It felt soft to the touch. The Sunfishappeared to nibble at the growths on the boat. Its large eyes just under the the surface of the sea were looking at me. 
    Report by Stuart Damien-Philips (Harbourmaster, Ventnor)


    25 August 2007   11:45 am
    Seen from MS Oldenburg, outbound from Lundy Island, approx 2 km to the east of Lundy, one Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola passed us heading back towards the island.

    25 August 2007
    One Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, was spotted 300 metres east of Ilfracombe pier, north Devon, swimming east.


    28 August 2007 - approx. 12.30 pm  North Devon
    I had kayaked about two-thirds of the way down Woolacombe Bay (heading south) when I saw what looked liked a sea bird in trouble - one wing flapping listlessly up and down. The tide was far out and had just turned to come back in. Headed over to get a better look and saw it was a fin, not a wing. The Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola was upright in the water and I could see the shape of the top of its body - perhaps about two to three feet in length, grey in colour. It slipped away after a very short time and the fin disappeared under water.

    Report by Gudrun Limbrick


    28 August 2007 - approx. 2:00 pm   North Devon
    I was kayaking along Woolacombe Bay and was about to turn around at Putsborough when I saw thin fin flapping up and down in the water about 10-15 metres away. I made my way slowly towards it and got close and realised it was an Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola lying on its side. It was floating on top of the water and I pulled along shoreside of it. I could see its eye clearly looking at me, and its mouth open wide. We just sat there looking at each other for about a minute or so. It drifted quite close to my boat and then turned the right way up, went down a bit into the water, and came up again towards the back of my boat, nearer to me. It turned on its side again and looked at me, and was now close enough to touch. After a few seconds it turned itself up, sank down and swam under me and away into the water. It measured about 1 to 2 feet across, and its fin was under a foot long, so perhaps it was a young one.

    Report by Helena Duignan


    5 & 14 January 2008
    We have a report from Mr Meale who spotted what appears to be a Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, found on Eccles Beach, Norfolk on 5 January 2008. A further report in the EDP published on Monday 14January 2008 shows a picture of a Sunfish found on Sea Palling Beach, Norfolk.


    2008
    I was windsurfing off Abersoch, Lleyn peninsula, north Wales, this afternoon and sighted a Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, around 3 feet in length, maybe a little more, with its dorsal fin breaking the surface, only a few 100 meters from shore.

    Report by John Decker


    18 July 2008
    An Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, was seen at Marazion, south Cornwall.


    26 July 2010
    I'm sure I saw an Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, of the Jurassic coast, Dorset. I was one of four kayaking along the foot of Bindon Hill (between Mupe Rocks and Lulworth Cove) in water of a moderate swell with some clapotis coming back of the rocks.
    I could see a darker form in the water ahead of me (I had no idea it was a fish at this time) and as I approached I obviously scared the creature, which with much splashing appeared to turn from it's horizontal plane to a vertical plane and dived deep to my right.  I saw the fin amongst the splashing and as I glided past saw the fish immediately it submerged.  I'd estimate it to be 60-75 cm across the fins and of a deep grey colour.  I could see it dive for probably 3 metres before it vanished.

    Report by John Norris
    27 August 2010
    Whilst sailing from Poole to Yarmouth on Friday, about a mile off the Needles sighted what first appeared to be flotsam flopping in and out of the water, I realised it looked more like a black fin so we turned back for another look, I recognised it as a Sunfish, Mola mola, as we closed, didnít want to get too close but took a couple of passes for all aboard too see, went to get camera for third pass but the sunfish had gone, dived I think. The fin was approximately 15 cm long and Iíd estimate the fish to be about 60-70 cm, difficult to be sure as it was angled to the surface not flat. 
    Report by Ian Milton


    1 September 2010
    While paddling of the coast of Co. Antrim, just North of Black Head we spotted a Sunfish, Mola mola. At first it was just a fin, then it seems to wave at us but on our approach it dived out of sight.  After a short time it reappeared and as we approached much more cautiously, we
    were able to observe it for several minutes. It was about two feet in length and not at all put out by our presence.

    Report by John Cunningham


    2 September 2010
    Sunfish, Mola mola
    We were surfing at Putsborough Sands, north Devon, at the back of the waves waiting for some bigger ones to come when I saw a fin sticking out of the water it was about 8 to 9 inches long.  I paddled over to see what it was. I got about 5 foot away from it and it dived straight to the bottom. Its body  was about 30 inches round maybe slightly more, its body was a greyish colour. I had a big grin on my face all day; amazing. And the surf was really good to.

    Report by Stephen Price


    11 September 2010
    While out fishing in my boat from Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland on Saturday at about 14.00 hours, I spotted a Sunfish, Mola mola, about 0.75 of a mile from the beach. It was approximately 2 feet in diameter and seemed to be swimming south. Its dorsal fin was flapping above the surface and it was spouting water into the air like a fountain.

    Report by John Watt (ORCA) (Fraserburgh)

     

    3 August 2011
    I saw a Sunfish, Mola mola, on the surface about six miles south of Hastings, East Sussex The sea conditions were calm and I noticed a fin protruding from the surface, with a Fulmarsitting nearby. We approached slowly and I got a look at the fish, which I estimate at being one metre in length. I went to the front of the boat for a clearer view but spooked the fish and watched it dive straight down.

    Report by John Little


    6 August 2011
    I spotted an Ocean Sunfish,Mola mola, off Berry Head (Brixham) approximately 13:00. It was swimming on the surface and I approached thinking it looked like an injured fish due to its unusual swimming style and one of our group identified it was approximately 60 cm across. We approached it in kayaks after a couple of strokes it swam down from the surface. It was spotted in a similar area about ¾ hr later (could not confirm it was the same one as we did not get close enough but we could see it on the surface with it fin up). A great day as we had already seen Dolphins in Torbay

    Report by Simon Berry
    9 August 2011
    I was diving on the wreck of the "Betsy Anna", in Poole Bay. The wreck is at about 25 m and positioned roughly at 50 37 00N, 01 48 86W. It was approx' 20.30 in the evening when I spotted the Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, at this depth and it appeared to be about 0.5m (18") across.
    To say that I was excited to see this fish is an understatement as I have been diving since 1999 and this is the first one I've ever seen! Maybe it's because the sea temperature is very warm at the moment, my computer was reading 18 °C last night and made for a very relaxing dive.
    Report by Mark Ninnim


    10 August 2011
    We took a 15 minute boat trip round the harbour at Clovelly, north Devon, and saw two fins swimming nearby.  The pilot said they were Sunfish, Mola mola, and turned the boat around to stay with them.  We had never heard of them before but other visitors were very excited about the sitings. 

     Report by Barbara Rundle


    2 October 2011
    We had the pleasure of a Sunfish, Mola mola, swimming along side the boat. Now heres the best bit our position was 11 miles SNE (70 degrees) from the South Gare on the River Tees54,38.700  / 000.47,00 in the North Sea.  We first saw it at about 1 metre depth about 8 metre away from the boat it came towards the boat and closer to the surface its fin just breaking thru then swam towards the bow and away size wise it would have been about 70 cm long

    Report by Greg Horner


    3 November 2011
    Two of us, Richard Millington and myself, were scanning the sea off the beach at Salthouse, on the north Norfolk coast this afternoon for auks, divers and other seabirds. At around 1250, I picked up the unmistakable shape of an Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, fin, some 250 metres offshore, moving east, through the relatively calm sea (a slight swell on the rising tide, with the wind coming from the SE). The fin was perhaps 1.5 feet to 2 feet long (hard to estimate, but certainly we both felt sure it was well over a foot long) and the fish made rather rapid progress eastwards, coming a little closer to the shore as it passed by. We both watched the Sunfish through both binoculars and telescopes and, very occasionally, the fish's body could be seen close to the surface of the water. 

    Report by Mark Golley


    5 June 2012
    A rare Sussex sighting of a Sunfish
    We sighted a Sunfish, Mola mola,  while diving today off Seaford, East Sussex. We were approximately 500 metres off the long groyne at the easterly end off Seaford Beach in approximately 10 metres of water. The weather was mixed sunshine and clouds which a moderate sea state (1 to 1.5 metre waves). The fish was probably 1 metre from tip of fin to tip of fin and appeared to be in good health.

     Report by Ed Hartwell
    member of the University of Sussex Sub Aqua Club (USSAC)
    14 August 2012
    A Sunfish, Mola mola, was seen in Dover Harbour, Kent. 
    Report by Becky Hitchen on BMLSSfacebook


    20 August 2012
    Whilst out kayaking with my daughter Chloe to the right of Greve De Lecq bay my daughter noticed a fin flapping about 20 meters away just off the headland. We approached with caution thinking it may be a juvenile shark and were surprised to see a Sunfish, Mola mola, of about 2 foot and a big beady black eye staring at us whilst it happily caught some sun. It was 28 degrees that afternoon so not surprising. Also there was a lot of jellyfish in the area at the time, which I now know to be its favourite food. It came to the kayak and appeared to be happy following us and knocking itself against it to my daughters delight. I guess looking at the reviews he was trying to rid himself of parasites but we didnít realise at the time. We kayaked alongside for a good 10 minutes before he disappeared into the depths. This was a great experience and Iím gutted I didnít have my camera. Note to take out in future at all times! 

    Report by Carl Ham-Howes


    23 September 2012
    My son (38)  and I (66) were walking on the coastal path between Goodwick and Strumble Head on the Pembroke coast just due north of Penfathach bay at around 12.00 noon on Sunday. We saw a Sunfish, Mola mola, floating about 10 metres off shore. Unfortunately my camera is just a point and shoot Nikon so did not bother to photograph it but we we able to observe it through binoculars  for about 5 minutes. We could clearly see the dorsal fins and head.
    I originally assumed it might be a dead ray floating on the surface but it was moving in a pretty desultory manner and fitted the discriptions exactly.

    Report by Hugh Cutler


    21 November 2012
    Strandings of the Sunfish, Mola mola, are always less frequent on the North Sea coasts than off the south and west coasts for this oceanic pelagic traveller. So a Sunfish 28 inches long and with a height of 18 inches (excluding fins) washed ashore dead on Sandilands Beach, Lincolnshire was unexpected. The beach is very shallow with sandbanks so that sometimes even the Lesser Weever, Echiichthys vipera, gets stranded when the tide goes out. 

    Sunfish (Photograph by Matt Hyde)
    "I was out walking the dogs late morning yesterday on Sandilands beach in Lincolnshire, which is about 5 miles south of Mablethorpe and 13 miles north of Skegness. It was a wet day and there was a high tide and the sea was choppy with the wind coming from the south east.  Jimmy enjoys searching for fish in shallow water but I think even he got a shock when he came across such a large fish.  It is 28 inches in length, 18 inches deep at the widest point and exactly three feet from dorsal fin tip to lower fin tip.  I estimate that it weighs about 5/6 stone.  The fish which I later identified as a Mola mola (Sunfish) appeared to be newly dead.  The pictures show that it has a couple of cuts on its body.  I have never seen one before and I understand that it is rare to find these fish in the North Sea."
     
    Report, Photograph and Quote by Matt Hyde
    23 November 2012
    A dead Sunfish, Mola mola, measuring approximately 45 cm by 35 cm, excluding fins, was found on Old Hunstanton beach at about 3.30 pm. (TF 684428). I was not sure what it was until I googled it later in the evening. It was still there the following morning (c.9.45 am) and, according to another walker, had been there since at least this morning.
    Report & Photograph by Nick Torry
    Also reported by Vivien Messenger and by Peter Menage


    1 December 2012
    We found a dead 40 -50 cm diameter Sunfish, Mola mola, high up on the strand line on Skegness beach on Sunday. The eye was missing but otherwise the fish was not attacked. A real surprise to see such a fish. On the same beach there were numerous Starfish - say 20 to 30 in number about 10 cm tip to tip.

    Report by Jonathan Sayer


    Additional Notes:
    Database of Sunfish Records (CD-ROM only)

    Information wanted: Please send any records of this fish, with location, date, who discovered it, how it was identified, prevalence, common name and any other details to 
    Shorewatch Project EMail Glaucus@hotmail.com. 

    All messages will receive a reply.


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