I Saw a Sunfish

I Saw a Sunfish

One of 19 photos from the NDR website - three short videos are also there

Last night I saw a documentary on the German TV channel NDR about searching for Sunfish (Mola mola) – Mondfische in the German language which means Moonfish – off the California Coast and off the Italian island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea.

Now, this is a website about lighthouses – why would I be writing about Sunfish?


Small sunfish in the water - photo Paul Howells

Well one year warm California currents moved north – as far north as Prince Rupert, BC. I am not too sure of the exact year but judging from the years with warmest sea surface temperatures 1 I would guess it to be about 1984 as I remember an assistant 2 named Roger Mogg on station at the time.

The first time we saw a sunfish in the water, it was lying on it’s side in the sun which they are prone to do. It was in Catela Passage at the back side of the island where the waters are relatively calm. Getting the boat into the water, we rowed out to see exactly what it was. It was a sunfish – they are pretty easy to identify, as we knew most of the fish pretty well on the Pacific coast, and this definitely something we had not seen before. It was about three (3) feet (1 meter) across the widest part.

Sunfish basking - photo - jb1562 (Joe) on Flickr

Later in the week the large Coast Guard Sikorsky S-61 helicopter was inbound to our station. It was about one kilometer out when it slewed around and hovered over the water. Wondering what was happening, we grabbed the binoculars. Underneath, in the water, we could see a very large sunfish. It looked like a great white plate sunning itself on the surface of the ocean. Estimates from the pilots put it at about eight (8) feet across (2-1/2 meters). Now that is a big fish! No wonder they spotted it from the air.

Do you think think I am relating a fantasy story? It would be if I hadn’t seen them. But you can verify the story here on the British Columbia website The Marine Detective. A very interesting website where the author says:

“Something very unexpected landed near the Port Hardy seaplane base on October 20th [2011] – a dead Mola mola. This is the largest of the world’s ocean sunfishes and looks like a cartoon character rather than a relatively fast-moving, deep-diving fish whose design has been perfected by millions of years of evolution.”

The story is about halfway down the page after the octopus story.


1 Years with warmest sea temperatures – On McInnes Island lighthouse we took daily sea surface water temperature and salinity measurements. These are shown here on the DFO website.

2 Assistant keepers – I kept a list of all my assistants, and their dates of service.

[private]Paul Howell’s photo of sunfish http://www.glaucus.org.uk/Sunfish.htm[/private]

[private]Joe’s photo of sunfish on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/jb1562/2713564654/in/pool-654237@N22/[/private]

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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