Reviews in Fish Biology and Fisheries

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 471-487

First online:

The biology and ecology of the ocean sunfish Mola mola: a review of current knowledge and future research perspectives

  • Edward C. PopeAffiliated withCentre for Sustainable Aquaculture Research, Swansea University
  • , Graeme C. HaysAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Sustainability, Swansea University
  • , Tierney M. ThysAffiliated withOcean Sunfish Research and Tagging Program
  • , Thomas K. DoyleAffiliated withCoastal and Marine Resources Centre, Lewis Glucksman Marine Facility, University College Cork
  • , David W. SimsAffiliated withMarine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The LaboratorySchool of Biological Sciences, University of Plymouth
  • , Nuno QueirozAffiliated withMarine Biological Association of the United Kingdom, The LaboratoryCIBIO-UP, Centro de Investigação em Biodiversidade e Recursos Genéticos, Campus Agrário de Vairão
  • , Victoria J. HobsonAffiliated withInstitute of Environmental Sustainability, Swansea University
  • , Lukas KubicekAffiliated withWhale Observation Project, W.O.P. Centre
  • , Jonathan D. R. HoughtonAffiliated withSchool of Biological Sciences, Queen’s University Belfast, Medical Biology CentreQueen’s University Belfast Marine Laboratory Email author 

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Relatively little is known about the biology and ecology of the world’s largest (heaviest) bony fish, the ocean sunfish Mola mola, despite its worldwide occurrence in temperate and tropical seas. Studies are now emerging that require many common perceptions about sunfish behaviour and ecology to be re-examined. Indeed, the long-held view that ocean sunfish are an inactive, passively drifting species seems to be entirely misplaced. Technological advances in marine telemetry are revealing distinct behavioural patterns and protracted seasonal movements. Extensive forays by ocean sunfish into the deep ocean have been documented and broad-scale surveys, together with molecular and laboratory based techniques, are addressing the connectivity and trophic role of these animals. These emerging molecular and movement studies suggest that local distinct populations may be prone to depletion through bycatch in commercial fisheries. Rising interest in ocean sunfish, highlighted by the increase in recent publications, warrants a thorough review of the biology and ecology of this species. Here we review the taxonomy, morphology, geography, diet, locomotion, vision, movements, foraging ecology, reproduction and species interactions of M. mola. We present a summary of current conservation issues and suggest methods for addressing fundamental gaps in our knowledge.


Teleost Telemetry Foraging ecology Locomotion Diet Range Phylogeny