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Rare Mola Mola, Eel Grass with Life Forms: Striking Recent Oregon Coast Finds

Published 11/03/2018 at 5:29 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

Rare Mola Mola, Eel Grass with Lifeforms: Striking Recent Oregon Coast Finds

(Seaside, Oregon) – More remarkable finds on the Oregon coast as winter conditions rev up: the folks at Seaside Aquarium snagged a few in the first two days of November. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

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Tiffany Boothe, education specialist with the aquarium, encountered some wild discoveries on the large and tiny scale. One of them is a bit rare: the mola mola, or sunfish. The other finds lurked deep in some sea plants.

“While perusing the beach for newly washed up kelp to feed to our sea urchins, we came across an interesting find: a juvenile Mola mola,” Boothe said. “Mola molas, more commonly referred to as ocean sunfish, are more prevalent in tropical waters. But 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.”

They are not frequently seen on these beaches – it’s a somewhat rare find. They’re usually far out beyond the shoreline, and they largely disappear after summer’s warmer waters.

Boothe said full grown mola mola get over 2,200 pounds, which makes it the heaviest bony fish in the ocean. This particular sunfish was about a foot and a half long, considered tiny. The aquarium has seen them here as big as ten feet long.

Another odd fact: females produce over 300 million eggs in their lifetime, more than any other vertebrate.

Their appearance, however, announces something not pleasant possibly waiting in the wings.

“The same currents that bring the Mola molas to Oregon can also bring sea turtles,” Boothe said. “As we enter into Oregon's sea turtle season (November through February), keep a close eye out for cold-stunned sea turtles.”

Boothe said if you do come across a sea turtle on one of the Oregon coast’s beaches, call the Seaside Aquarium at 503-738-6211.

“The quicker we can get them off the beach and into a stable environment the more likely they are able to be rehabbed and released back into the ocean,” she said.

While searching the beaches, Boothe also came across a lot of eel grass – green, sort of leafy stuff that looks like seaweed. Therein lie a bundle of nifty finds, and even a tale of rescuing tiny creatures.

“Have you ever taken a closer look?,” Boothe said. “If not, you may have missed out. This small tuft of eel grass had hundreds of tiny porcelain crabs clinging to its roots. If returned to the ocean, the tide would simply wash them back onto shore, where they would perish. We will use the eel grass for our pipefish to hide in and the crabs will be placed in a protective tank where they can grow. If all goes well, when they are large enough to be released without washing back onto the sandy beach, we will release them.”

In this case, the eel grass was tucked inside bull kelp, which are magnificent and somewhat freaky things all in themselves. When they wind up on the beaches, they resemble giant tube-like snakes or whips of some kind. But in the ocean, they grow in massive kelp forests in an upside down state. Those bulbs at the ends often bob in the water and are frequently mistaken for seals.

Seaside Aquarium also finds uses for these.

“We collect the bull kelp when it washes ashore to feed to our sea urchins, but today we collected the eel grass for our pipefish to hide in,” she said. (More photos below) Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

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