Unusually warm temperatures in the Bay of Fundy are attracting exotic species that rarely venture so far north -- including a several-hundred pound flat fish that is often mistaken for a shark and can grow to be thousands of pounds.
The mola mola, or ocean sunfish, was spotted and recorded earlier this week by a tour operator who runs whale watching trips out of St. Andrews, N.B.
The fish often swims near the surface of the water, and has a large, triangular fin that resembles a shark’s. In fact, that’s what Nick Hawkins thought he was seeing at first. It wasn’t until he got closer and began recording the creature, that he realized it was something different.
“We saw a fin come up and when we approached it was a mola mola, which is a really bizarre looking fish,” he told CTV Atlantic. “This certain one was actually a small mola mola because they can get very large. I’d put this one at about three or four hundred pounds.”
Considered the largest bony fish in the world, the mola mola is typically found in warmer waters, but with temperatures in the Bay of Fundy becoming more temperate in recent months, unusual species have begun to appear, said James Upham, a public programming interpreter at the New Brunswick Museum in Saint John.
He said the mola mola is a fascinating fish to see in the wild because of its flat shape, unique swimming style and its tendency to stay close to the surface.
“They get the name (mola mola, or sunfish) from hanging around on the surface of the water during the day, they sort of bask and you can see them pretty easily,” Upham said.
Hawkins said he was excited for the rare opportunity to see the fish, and quickly tried to capture the moment.
“The mola mola happened to be close to the boat which is hard to do, often you’ll catch a glimpse of them and then they’re gone but it stayed up for us and we got the pole into the water and got some really good footage of it,” he said.
According to National Geographic, ocean sunfish live in tropical and termperate waters, and can reach up to 14 feet vertically and 10 feet horizontally. The largest specimens have weighed up to 5,000 pounds.
They feed on jellyfish, small fish and plankton and algae.
“They are harmless to people, but can be very curious and will often approach divers,” said an article on nationalgeographic.com.
“Their population is considered stable, though they frequently get snagged in drift gill nets and can suffocate on sea trash, like plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.”
With a report from CTV Atlantic's Ashley Dunbar.