Ocean Sunfish Pair Foraging in Wellfleet Harbor

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Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola)

What a strange fish!  This giant ocean sunfish, seven feet from tip of dorsal fin (bottom right) to tip of ventral fin (top left), sports the signature abbreviated tailfin, called a caudal fin or clavus (rudder).  Her head is at the top right of the photograph with her tiny rounded pectoral fin immediately behind the eye.  While one can come across an ocean sunfish at sea basking on the surface in a flat position similar to the stranded Mola mola above, normally one finds an ocean sunfish swimming with dorsal fin cutting through the water, looking for all the world like a SHARK!

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SHARK!! (NOT … Ocean Sunfish)

Turtle Journal reached Wellfleet Harbor in mid afternoon as the late morning high tide receded.  Thick low clouds dumped torrents of rain on the pier, and schools of menhaden swam slowly along the floating docks largely camouflaged in the murky, plankton-thick water.  We visited the Wellfleet Pier today to check for signs of the large ocean sunfish we had discovered one week ago on September 29th.  (See Giant Ocean Sunfish in Wellfleet’s Chipman’s Cove. )  As Sue Wieber Nourse walked near the harbor master’s shack, she spotted a dorsal fin circling the harbor among schools of menhaden.

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Ocean Sunfish Pair in Wellfleet Harbor

This giant ocean sunfish was quickly joined by a smaller Mola mola as the pair foraged in tandem among the menhaden, while dodging diving gulls and busy shellfishermen boating out to their aquaculture grants.  The sunfish crisscrossed between piers and along the docks, then disappeared for several minutes, only to reappear and resume foraging behavior with dorsal fin occasionally slapping from side to side.

Ocean Sunfish Pair Forage among Menhaden Schools

The pair continued to forage and gradually swam into the deeper channel leading out to Wellfleet Bay as the receding tide lowered water levels near the pier.  Soon their dorsal fins blended into thick low misty clouds as they swam beyond the harbor jetty.  We will continue to observe these gentle giants during the coming weeks because many ocean sunfish strand during astronomic tides each fall along the Cape Cod bayside shoreline.  If you see an ocean sunfish in distress or merely circling close to shore within the next several weeks, don’t hesitate to call the Turtle Journal hotline at 508-274-5108.

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