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Somewhat Rare Mola Molas / Sunfish Spotted Off Oregon Coast - Video

Published 10/08/2019 at 4:53 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Somewhat Rare Mola Molas / Sunfish Spotted Off Oregon Coast - Video

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(Depoe Bay, Oregon) – A striking find in the ocean at the end of September: Oregon coast wildlife experts spotted some Ocean Sunfish, otherwise known as mola molas, in the waters off Cape Falcon (near Manzanita) and off Otter Rock (near Depoe Bay). (Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) released video of the startling discovery: they are a bit rare on the Oregon coast.

The ODFW crew were researchers with the marine reserves program, looking into the reserves off both areas. They managed to catch video of one of the strange creatures.

“Ocean sunfish are a strange looking fish with a truncated tail and bullet shaped body,” ODFW said on Facebook. “They often feed near the surface and get mistaken for sharks when their large dorsal fin emerges from the water (like in this video). They are found in temperate and tropical oceans worldwide and are spotted occasionally along the Oregon coast.”

This particular sunfish was seen at the Otter Rock Marine Reserve on a day when surface temperatures were warmer than usual, which ODFW said could explain why it made an appearance. Normally, these creatures are seen when they arrive on the sand dead, and it’s considered somewhat rare because it only happens every year or three.

Part of the explanation here could be extra warmer waters off the Oregon coast this past season, which have driven other fairly rare whale sightings (such as a minke whale) closer to shore. Scientists are expecting another “blob” off the West Coast, which would likely alter weather in the region.

“Surface water temperatures usually hover around 50 degrees, during our SCUBA surveys divers reported temperatures of 63 degrees (at 30 feet depth),” ODFW said. “The sunfish may be riding the warmer water currents that were coming closure to shore right now.”

ODFW said mola molas are the largest of the bony fish and can grow to as long as 11 feet.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium has talked to Oregon Coast Beach Connection about these in the past and said they can grow to as heavy as 2,200 pounds.

“They are harmless to people and their preferred meal of choice is jellyfish and zooplankton, and occasionally small fish,” ODFW said. “They tend to be curious and often approach divers and nearby boats.”

Boothe they are occasionally spotted in Manzanita's waters as well..

“When winds and ocean currents bring warmer water toward the Oregon coast they venture further north and can be seen feeding off of Neahkahnie Mountain,” she said.

Mola mola usually disappear when summer’s warmer waters do, so this is a sign that phenomenon has not stopped. Winter and fall can bring a run of warm currents that peter out once they get to this coastline, and that can mean mola molas are following those currents and then get stunned by the sudden cold, then die. This is when they wash up on the sand and create a bit of a stir.

In the early 2000s, Seaside Aquarium started publicizing some of its beach finds, and a few sunfish strandings resulted in a blitz of international media attention, including numerous outlets in Japan.

When winter comes and mola mola wash up, this often means cold-stunned sea turtles are close behind. They too follow those warm currents. Oregon Coast Hotels in this area - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours




Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium

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