Mola mola 

Scope: Mediterranean
Language: English

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Taxonomy [top]

Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family
Animalia Chordata Actinopterygii Tetraodontiformes Molidae

Scientific Name: Mola mola (Linnaeus, 1758)
Regional Assessments:
Common Name(s):
English Ocean Sunfish, Giant Sunfish, Headfish, Mola Ocean Sunfish, Moonfish, Sunfish, Sun-fish
French Môle, Môle Commun, Poisson-lune, Poisson Lune
Spanish Mola, Peixe Lua, Pez Cabeza, Pez Luna, Pez Sol
Tetraodon mola Linnaeus, 1758
Taxonomic Source(s): Eschmeyer, W.N. and Fricke, R. (eds). 2015. Catalog of Fishes: genera, species, references. Updated 2 September 2015. Available at: (Accessed: 2 September 2015).

Assessment Information [top]

Red List Category & Criteria: Data Deficient (Regional assessment) ver 3.1
Year Published: 2011
Date Assessed: 2007-11-15
Assessor(s): Di Natale, A., Massuti, E., Oral, M., Kada, O., Golani, D. & Bilecenoglu, M.
Reviewer(s): Livingstone, S., Harwell, H., Polidoro, B. & Carpenter, K.
This species has a wide range in the Mediterranean Sea but is not particularly common. It can be found in large groups in some areas in the central Mediterranean Sea (but is much less common in the east part of the basin). There are no data on population trends. It is sometimes caught as bycatch (only one target fishery exists at present). Most catches happen from late May to July when the species is present in shallower waters. More information on population trends across the Mediterranean Sea are required to be able to assess the species beyond Data Deficient at present.

Geographic Range [top]

Range Description:This species occurs in warm and temperate zones of all oceans. In the east Pacific, it has been recorded from British Columbia (Canada) (Eschmeyer et al. 1983) to Peru and Chile (Chirichigno 1974). In the east Atlantic, it has been recorded from Scandinavia to South Africa (and occasionally in the west Baltic Sea). In the west Atlantic, it is found from Newfoundland, Canada (Robins and Ray 1986) to Argentina (Figueiredo and Menezes 2000).

In the Mediterranean Sea, this species has a very widespread range throughout the basin. It has been recorded from the west basin, from Ligurian Sea (Tunesi and Molinari 2005) to the south-west Mediterranean Sea (Dempster et al. 2002) and the Alboran Sea (Tudela et al. 2005).

This is a worldwide, generally oceanic species in tropical to temperate waters. It is present from Newfoundland to Argentina in the western Atlantic, and from Scandinavia to South Africa in the eastern Atlantic, but is not found in the Baltic or North Seas. It is widespread but not common in the Mediterranean Sea.
Countries occurrence:
Albania; Algeria; American Samoa; Angola; Anguilla; Antigua and Barbuda; Argentina; Australia; Bahamas; Bangladesh; Barbados; Belize; Benin; Bermuda; Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba; Brazil; British Indian Ocean Territory; Cambodia; Cameroon; Canada; Cape Verde; Cayman Islands; Chile; China; Christmas Island; Cocos (Keeling) Islands; Colombia; Comoros; Congo; Congo, The Democratic Republic of the; Cook Islands; Costa Rica; Côte d'Ivoire; Croatia; Cuba; Curaçao; Cyprus; Denmark; Djibouti; Dominica; Dominican Republic; Ecuador; Egypt; El Salvador; Equatorial Guinea; Eritrea; Fiji; France; French Guiana; French Polynesia; Gabon; Gambia; Ghana; Gibraltar; Greece; Grenada; Guadeloupe; Guinea; Guinea-Bissau; Guyana; Haiti; Honduras; India; Indonesia; Iran, Islamic Republic of; Ireland; Israel; Italy; Jamaica; Japan; Jordan; Kenya; Kiribati; Korea, Democratic People's Republic of; Korea, Republic of; Lebanon; Liberia; Libya; Madagascar; Malaysia; Maldives; Malta; Marshall Islands; Mauritania; Mauritius; Mayotte; Mexico; Micronesia, Federated States of ; Monaco; Montenegro; Montserrat; Morocco; Mozambique; Myanmar; Namibia; Nauru; New Caledonia; New Zealand; Nicaragua; Nigeria; Niue; Norfolk Island; Northern Mariana Islands; Norway; Oman; Pakistan; Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Peru; Philippines; Pitcairn; Portugal; Réunion; Russian Federation; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; Saint Kitts and Nevis; Saint Lucia; Saint Martin (French part); Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Samoa; Sao Tomé and Principe; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Seychelles; Sierra Leone; Singapore; Sint Maarten (Dutch part); Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Somalia; South Africa; Spain; Sri Lanka; Sudan; Suriname; Sweden; Syrian Arab Republic; Taiwan, Province of China; Tanzania, United Republic of; Thailand; Togo; Tokelau; Tonga; Trinidad and Tobago; Tunisia; Turkey; Turks and Caicos Islands; Tuvalu; United Arab Emirates; United Kingdom; United States; United States Minor Outlying Islands; Uruguay; Vanuatu; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of; Viet Nam; Virgin Islands, British; Wallis and Futuna; Western Sahara; Yemen
FAO Marine Fishing Areas:
Atlantic – western central; Atlantic – northeast; Atlantic – eastern central; Atlantic – southwest; Atlantic – southeast; Atlantic – northwest; Indian Ocean – eastern; Indian Ocean – western; Mediterranean and Black Sea; Pacific – southeast; Pacific – northeast; Pacific – northwest; Pacific – eastern central; Pacific – western central; Pacific – southwest
Additional data:
Lower depth limit (metres):480
Upper depth limit (metres):30
Range Map:Click here to open the map viewer and explore range.

Population [top]

Population:This is not a common species in the Mediterranean Sea. It can appear in large groups in some areas, mostly in late spring and summertime when it is found close to the surface. In Israel, it was very rare, but in recent years it has been caught more often (but is still considered rare) (D. Golani pers. comm. 2007). It is less present in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Current Population Trend:Unknown
Additional data:
Population severely fragmented:No

Habitat and Ecology [top]

Habitat and Ecology:This is a pelagic, oceanodromous species, found on slopes adjacent to deep water. It is usually a shy species, but may become accustomed to divers in certain locations (Kuiter and Tonozuka 2001). This fish often drifts at the surface while lying on its side, or it swims upright and close to the surface, often with its dorsal fin projecting above the water. The species has been filmed in 480 m depth with the help of a camera equipped with baits (Maclaren pers. comm. 2007). It feeds on fishes, molluscs, zooplankton, jellyfish, crustaceans and brittle stars (Clemens and Wilby 1961, Kuiter and Tonozuka 2001). A live colony of goose barnacles (Lepas anatifera) were found attached to the anterior portion of the esophagus of an individual that was stranded in the south coast of Terceira Island, Azores Archipelago in 2004. This association has apparent advantages for the goose barnacles (e.g., regular intake of food and protection both from hydrodynamic hazards and from predators), but for the sunfish, it is not clear whether it is neutral association or if it causes feeding problems since the attachment may obstruct the sunfish's esophagus (Barreiros and Teves 2005). It is recorded as the heaviest bony fish, as well as the bony fish with the most eggs in the Guinness Book of World Records (Foot 2000). It produces very numerous and small eggs; 300 million eggs were found in a 1.5 m female (Tortonese 1986). Juveniles are preyed upon by California sea lions in Monterey Bay (Powell 2001).

In the Mediterranean Sea, this is a large, pelagic species (reaching over 3 m in diameter) occurs from sea level to 360 m (Fischer et al. 1987). It can come close to the coast in some areas in the summertime.
Movement patterns:Full Migrant

Use and Trade [top]

Use and Trade: This is a species with minor commercial importance, caught mainly by seines. It is generally not eaten, but is considered by some as a delicacy (Sommer et al. 1996). It is used in Chinese medicine (Tang 1987). It may contain the same toxin as puffers and porcupine fish (Parsons 1986). The species does not adapt well in captivity (Göthel 1992, Powell 2001).

Threats [top]

Major Threat(s): This is a species with minor commercial importance, caught mainly by seines. It is an important bycatch of driftnets. It is generally not eaten, but is considered by some as a delicacy (Sommer et al. 1996). It is used in Chinese medicine (Tang 1987). It may contain the same toxin as puffers and porcupine fish (Parsons 1986). The species does not adapt well in captivity (Göthel 1992, Powell 2001).

In the Mediterranean Sea, there is a localized fishery for this species in the straight of Messina (A. Di Natale pers. comm. 2007). It is caught by traps and harpoons and was a common bycatch in pelagic driftnets before they were banned in European countries in 2002, and in 2005 in other Mediterranean countries (ICCAT regulations). Purse seine bycatch may be a threat to the species in the region.

Conservation Actions [top]

Conservation Actions: There is no information available on specific conservation measures for this species.

In the Balearic Islands, this species was assessed as Vulnerable because of low abundance and relatively frequent bycatch (Mayol et al. 2000). It is assessed as a "threatened migrant" in Turkey (threat may also occur outside the range in Turkey, Fricke 2007).

Further research should be conducted to determine the current population trend for this species.

Citation: Di Natale, A., Massuti, E., Oral, M., Kada, O., Golani, D. & Bilecenoglu, M. 2011. Mola mola. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T190422A8793012. . Downloaded on 21 June 2018.
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