Mola mola

A beach walker came upon this dead ocean sunfish Jan. 22 at Del Monte Beach.

On Jan. 13, Jeff Ludlow posted a photo of a dead mola mola, aka ocean sunfish, on the Pagrovia Facebook page.

“What is up with all of the sunfish, OMG," he wrote. "At the sea wall, west of Lovers Point."

More than a week later, Ludlow says, sunfish carcasses are still scattered by the dozens along the Pacific Grove shoreline, almost all of them missing their fins and eyes.

Laura McKinnon posted a similar photo of a dead sunfish (pictured), one of four she found Thursday on Del Monte Beach.

"So many dead mola molas I've seen this week," she wrote. "I don't recall seeing them on shore like this before?"

Carmel Valley marine biologist Tierney Thys, a world-renowned mola mola expert, says dead sunfish tend to wash up on shore after being attacked by sea lions. But not normally in January.

"This happens more normally during the months of October and November and not typically this late in the winter season," she writes.

After looking into it, she returns with an update.

"Last year there have been warm water temperature anomalies in the California Current up to 3 degrees that have led to some strange occurrences," she emails. "The result of that is likely contributing to the existence of more mola at this odd time of year."

Thys reported on a mola mola die-off in November 2012, when more than 100 juveniles washed up on Monterey Bay shores. Most were young, missing their fins and eyes. From that paper:

"Sporadic die-offs during this period are mainly due to predation events by California sea lions that eat the fish or tear off the mola’s dorsal/anal fins leaving them to the mercy of seagulls that remove the immobilized fish’s eyes. The bodies then wash ashore or sink to the seafloor where they are consumed by seastars and/or other benthic dwellers."

Read more of Thys' sunfish research—and learn how you can help conserve these remarkable, goofy-looking fish—at http://oceansunfish.org.

 

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