Big Animals – Mola Molas, USA
The mysterious and uniquely shaped mola mola (also known as the oceanic sunfish), with its large, flattened disk-like body and rudder-like fins, can be found all over the world in open ocean. But finding them can take more than a bit of luck.
It’s the big animal that’s so nice, you have to say it twice—the mola mola. These big animals can grow up to 14 feet wide and 5,000 pounds. With a face that only a mother could love, these pelagic fish are usually only encountered during chance meetings in the open ocean. However, California is one location that provides regular, seasonal encounters with the mola mola.
When to Dive
Summer is the best time to try and find mola molas.
Never chase mola molas. The best images will be when the fish gets an interest in you and comes in closer.
If your subject is swimming, never swim behind it. Swim by its side, keeping at a respectful distance and giving it adequate space. After a while, the mola mola will get used to you and slow down.
Mola molas can have very reflective bodies, so be careful using strobes, as your can easily burn out your shot. Personally, I prefer to use natural light, but that’s possible only if the encounter is close to the surface. In cases where the mola mola is found at depth, strobes are crucial to achieve accurate colors.—Daniel Botelho
Sunfish have a wide distribution in open waters throughout the world. Along with blue and mako sharks, molas can be photographed sporadically off of Rhode Island. Go with Pelagic Expeditions. For more regular sightings, try the Galápagos, where they frequent the chilly waters off of Isabela Island. Go with M/V Galápagos Sky.