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Observations on a school of ocean sunfish and evidence for a symbiotic cleaning association with albatrosses


We observed a school of ocean sunfish Mola mola at the surface in the western North Pacific Ocean (40°46.8′N, 165°01.7′E) for about 90 min in July 2010. The school consisted of juvenile fish, approximately 40 cm in total length, which kept the same tight formation throughout the observation. Most fish were heavily infested around the base of their dorsal fins with an ecto-parasite Pennella sp. The fish school appeared to actively follow Laysan albatrosses Phoebastria immutabilis that were sitting on the water nearby, and one of the birds was photographed as it picked a Pennella sp. from one of the fish and ate it. We hypothesize that this symbiotic cleaning behavior by the albatrosses may be a common feature of the biology of the ocean sunfish.

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We would like to acknowledge the Captain, crew and all students on board the T/S Oshoro Maru in the summer 2010 cruise, for their endless support and hard work. Prof. Naito, Azabu University, Prof. Nagasawa, Hiroshima University, and emeritus Prof. Ogi, Hokkaido University, provided us with important literature and advice. Drs. Gregor M. Cailliet, Robert L. Pitman, William Walker and Patricia Whitelock made useful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Takuzo Abe.

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Communicated by S. Garthe.

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Abe, T., Sekiguchi, K., Onishi, H. et al. Observations on a school of ocean sunfish and evidence for a symbiotic cleaning association with albatrosses. Mar Biol 159, 1173–1176 (2012).

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  • Western North Pacific Ocean
  • Cleaning Behavior
  • Ocean Sunfish
  • Laysan Albatross
  • Fish Body Length