Keeping up with ocean sunfish

Mola mola are peculiar fish. Shaped like enormous shovels, they can grow to almost 10 feet long. They live throughout the global ocean and sometimes float languidly on their sides at the water’s surface. As charming as they are bizarre, they’re frequent, though temporary, visitors to the living collection at Monterey Bay Aquarium.

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Ocean sunfish, Mola mola, on display at the Aquarium.

Because they get so large and grow so fast, molas, also known as ocean sunfish, can’t be kept permanently in the Open Sea exhibit. Senior Aquarist Michael J. Howard and his team collect molas in Monterey Bay, but return them to the wild once they reach about 6.5 feet long.

Monterey Bay Aquarium is, to our knowledge, the only public aquarium in the world that returns exhibit molas to the wild. Until recently, no one knew what became of the individuals after their release.

With the help of colleagues and electronic tracking tags, Michael is starting to get some answers, adding important data to a sparse body of knowledge about the mola’s life history and habits.

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