The mighty Mola (Oceanic sunfish) is one of the reasons why our islands and our dive sites are so famous.
The sunfish is one of the strangest looking fish in the ocean and yet one that divers often place highly on their lists of ‘things to see’. As the heaviest known bony fish in the world and weighing in at over 2,200lbs the mola has two dorsal fins making it as tall as it is long. The most distinguishing feature of the mola is its main body area – of which there is very little – and which is flattened laterally. This strange shaping explains the German name for the fish – ‘schwimmender kopf’ which translates literally to ‘swimming head’. The word ‘mola’ is actually latin and means ‘millstone’ perhaps referring to either the shape or marbled coloration of the fish which is very typical in the Ramsayi species commonly seen around Nusa Penida.
Sunfish live on a diet of nutritionally poor jelly fish and to maintain their body weight they consume huge quantities. Ordinarily they are deep water fish but they are seen around Nusa Penida from July to October as they drift up the reefs on the cold thermoclines making their way into the shallower waters. Year round they carry an incredibly heavy parasitic load and these giant fish rely on some of the reefs smallest inhabitants to unburden them through cleaning.
Mola cleaning is an incredible sight as this huge fish, which averages around 2 meters, cruises up the reef hoping to attract the attention of the smaller reef fish. Banner fish are one of the great mola cleaning fish and can be seen literally leaving the reef in swarms as they flock to the mola. Other cleaner fish include cleaner wrasse which primarily clean around the gills and mouth, butterfly fish which focus on the eyes and even emperor angel fish have been seen cleaning the dorsal fins. Another means by which the mola is thought to rid itself of parasites is by ‘jumping’ – a phenomenon often witnessed by fishermen and during surface intervals. The mola will break through the surface and then crash back down creating an almighty splash which is thought to break off parasites in the process.
They are a truly Jurassic looking fish which, as a member of the order Tetraodontiformes, are closely related to pufferfish, porcupine fish and triggerfish. The sunfish is also referred to as the Balinese Sunfish (or Moonfish to the French – Poisson Lune). The name sunfish is thought to come from its habit of ‘sunbathing’ on the surface of the water.
Are you hoping to see a mola? The season is our busiest time here at Word Diving so be sure to book your space on the boat well in advance. Our PADI Divemasters know exactly when and where to look for them so you’ll be diving with mola experts! To make your reservation contact us on [email protected]