Stories From the Coral Triangle

Diving with the Mola

If you were to come face to face with a mola, chances are that you would not see much of its body--despite its massive size (specimens up to 3.2 m in height have been seen). The reason why is that the body of this fish is flattened laterally, giving it a long oval shape.

A rather unique look

Another distinctive particularity of the mola is the absence of a “traditional” tail for propulsion. It only has small pectoral fins, so the species relies on a long, thin dorsal and anal fins to drive itself forward by moving these fins from side to side. To escape attacks, the mola can change skin colouration from light to dark, especially when under attack.

The mola goes sunbathing

The mola has been been recorded swimming up to 26 km in a day, at a top speed of 3.2 km/hour. Usually, the species likes to cruise at depths of up to 600 m. When it basks just below the sea surface, it is thought that this may be a method of "thermally recharging" following dives into deeper, colder water.

Loving that jelly

The mola gorges itself on jellyfish mostly, but because these invertebrates don’t provide much in terms of nutrients, they must be consumed in large amounts. This is why the presence of the mola in a given area can be a sign of nutrient-rich waters.

Few to fear but humans

Young molas are vulnerable to bluefin tuna and mahi mahi, while adults are taken by sea lions, orcas and sharks. In some parts of the world, mola is considered a delicacy, e.g. in Taiwan and Japan. The species often gets caught accidentally in drift gillnet fisheries, making up nearly 30% of the total catch of the swordfish fishery with this kind of net in California. In some areas, the mola has its fins removed by fishers and is thrown back into the sea because it is considered as a “bait thief”.

Despite these sad statistics, mola fishing remains mostly unregulated worldwide, from the Coral Triangle to the Atlantic. As a result, studies show that there is a decrease in molas, most likely as a result of bycatch and consumption by humans.

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