Enormous Ocean Sunfish Filmed off California Coast

A giant ocean sunfish has been filmed off the coast of California, with the kayakers who spotted it estimating it to be around nine feet in length.

Ocean sunfish—also known as Mola mola—together with southern sunfish (Mola alexandrini), are the heaviest bony fish in the world. Adult ocean sunfish can weigh over 4,000lbs, equivalent to an adult male rhino.

Rich German and his friend Matthew Wheaton were out kayaking off Laguna Beach on December 2 when they came across a large sunfish, just a few hundred yards from the shore. German said it was the biggest sunfish either of them had ever seen.

German took photos and video of the sunfish and shared them to Facebook. In one film, an underwater close-up shows the sunfish as it drifts past the camera.

He told the Orange County Register he had seen many sunfish in the ocean in the past: "The first time I saw one, I didn't know what it was. I thought it was a mutilated shark. They are so bizarre-looking. They just lay there."

Of the latest encounter, he said: "It was a unique and very cool thing to experience, and another example of why we need to protect the ocean and the amazing life that calls it home."

Sunfish are found in tropical and temperate waters across the globe.

Last month, an enormous southern sunfish weighing over 4,000lbs was caught off the coast of Ceuta, a Spanish port city in the north of Africa. The sunfish, which was over 10.5 feet long and 9.5 feet wide, had become tangled in tuna fishing nets.

In 2019, another sunfish species—Mola tecta, or hoodwinker sunfish—was found washed up on Sands Beach in Goleta. This was the first time this species, which was originally described in 2017, had been observed in the Northern Hemisphere.

Jessica Nielsen, a conservation specialist at UC Santa Barbara's Coal Oil Point Reserve, worked with Thomas Turner, from UC Santa Barbara's ecology, evolution and marine biology department, and Marianne Nyegaard, of Murdoch University in Australia, to confirm the species.

"I literally nearly fell off my chair," Nyegaard said in a statement at the time. "Tom Turner and Jessica Nielsen had indeed found the fish and had photographed and examined it, and taken a tissue sample. A huge amount of extremely clear photos [were] in my inbox and there was just no doubt of the ID. They had also examined the clavus by hand to confirm the number of ossicles, which was just brilliant."

ocean sunfish
Stock photo of an ocean sunfish. Two kayakers filmed a large ocean sunfish off Laguna Beach. Getty Images