Video: Paddleboarders Meet Giant Ocean Sunfish

On December 2, a giant ocean sunfish (or “Mola mola”, scientifically speaking) approached a pair of paddleboarders 200m from the shoreline of Laguna Beach, California. The bizarre and massive bony fish, which paddler Rich German described in an interview as a “mutilated alien shark cut in half,” exhibited the calm, gentle curiosity typical of the species. It then proceeded to keep the two paddleboarders company for the next half hour before peacefully plummeting out of sight.

By paddlers Rich German and Matt Wheaton’s estimates, the docile, gargantuan sea creature measured 2.8 to 3 metres long. And judging by the footage, which shows the Cali-based sunfish alongside German’s 4.3-metre paddleboard, that span seems plausible.

If he’s right, the sunfish seen here would be one of the largest of its kind on record. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the largest recorded Mola mola spanned 3.3 metres from tip to toe and was discovered off the coast of New Zealand in 2006.

Below, a few odd facts about these little-known big fish.

Facts about the ocean sunfish

  1. The bony fish’s scientific name, Mola mola, comes from the Latin word for millstone, owing to its similarities in appearance and texture.
  2. Its nickname, ocean sunfish, derives from the bony fish’s tendency to sunbathe by floating on its side near the surface.
  3. Female ocean sunfish produce up to 300 million eggs per spawning  — more than any other vertebrate by orders of magnitude. Each female spawns several times throughout her life.
  4. Some ocean sunfish can grow to be 60 million times larger than their size at the time of hatching, which is just shy of one gram.
  5. At full maturity, it can weigh up to 2,300kg, making it the heaviest species of bony fish.
  6. A fully mature ocean sunfish has very few natural predators, thanks to its sheer size. But immature members frequently fall prey to sea lions, killer whales, and sharks.
  7. Unlike most finned sea animals familiar to us, the ocean sunfish lacks a tail fin. It uses its massive dorsal and dual anal fins to get around.
  8. Although little is known about the Mola mola’s lifespan and growth stages, experts believe that the bony fish’s average life expectancy falls somewhere between 20 and 25 years.