A staggeringly large ocean sunfish (Mola mola) was caught on camera earlier this month by a pair of paddleboarders cruising just a few hundred yards off the Laguna Beach shoreline in California.

Image © Rich German
Image © Rich German

Rich German and Matthew Wheaton suspect that the ocean behemoth they found drifting near the surface is one of the largest on record. "We didn’t have a measuring tape but Matt’s board is 14 foot long and the fish sure looked a solid 9 ft+," German wrote on Instagram.

The ocean sunfish is the heaviest known bony fish in the world and can tip the scales at over 5,000 pounds (2.26 tonnes). An adaptable species, these giants can be found across the globe, but prefer to spend their time in the open ocean, making encounters like this quite rare.

Their monumental size may help the animals thermoregulate in the depths of the sea. Molas have been recorded 2,600 feet below the surface where they hunt prey like siphonophores. Their size helps ensure that they retain their heat for longer and can remain in the depths for some time before returning to the surface to "sunbathe" and increase their body temperature.

German has come across these pelagic heavyweights in the past so he instantly knew what he was looking at, however, this particular fish was the biggest he'd ever seen. "This thing was just massive," he said in an interview with KTLA

The paddleboarder and marine advocate, who runs ocean conservation organisation Project O and has his own podcast dedicated to marine life, is thrilled that the clip is receiving so much attention: "I think it's just a testament to how much people really love the ocean and the life that lives in it."

The latest sighting also highlights the importance of marine conservation areas, as the mola was filmed in the Laguna Beach State Marine Reserve –a roughly six-mile-squared area in which fishing is prohibited.


Header image: Eric Chan