Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fish Stories

Back to the sea and the animals within.

The  California Sheephead.  The Sheephead arrived in the Monterey Bay during one of the warm El Niños and never left though their presence is still considered uncommon.  Their range now extends from the Gulf of Mexico to the Monterey Bay.  All Sheepheads begin life as females with rosy colored bodies. Between 7 and 13 years the female changes to male if needed. There is only one male in a group of Sheephead. If the dominant male is removed another female will change.  When the Sheephead changes its sex the head and tail become black.  They live in the kelp forests and feed on sea urchins, molluscs, lobsters and crabs.  Their protruding teeth help crack open the shells of their food.  Sheephead can live up to 50 years.

Another interesting fish is the Ocean Sunfish, or Mola Mola.  This is a very prehistoric looking fish. A lot of people remark that it looks like only half of a fish. They are the world's heaviest bony fish and have been recorded as being 11 feet long and weighing 5,000 pounds.  In California they've only been recorded as 3 feet long and weighing as much as 500 pounds.  It is not known how long they can live.  

They may have derived their name from their habit of swimming at the sea surface during daylight.  They've been observed leaping up to 10 feet out of the water.  Since most molas are heavily infested with parasites it is thought that this leaping behavior is for dislodging the parasites. Another behavior that has been observed is that of a mola basking in the sun at the surface of the water waving a pectoral fin in what is surmised as an attempt to attract birds that will come to remove and eat the external parasites.

The mola is a vertibrate, however its spine is shorter than its brain.  A 7.5 foot mola has a spinal cord that is less than 1 inch long. 

To see a mola is to notice its mouth is always open.  They feed by sucking and spitting. Their teeth are in their throats and are long and clawlike. They hold their prey (jellyfish, squid, crustaceans, fish, algae, and eelgrass) in their teeth and force water back out of their mouths tearing it apart for reconsumption of the smaller pieces.

There are generally one or two mola in the Open Sea exhibit of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The Sheephead is found in the Kelp Forest. Both fish have their own faithful who come specifically to catch a glimpse of one of these favorites.

In bocca al lupo.  m & v


  1. The mola: an example of nature red in tooth and claw (in the throat!). Savage. Scary. I feel sorry for it, though, because it has to be the host to all those parasites. However, as a friend of mine once said, "Everyone has to make a living" and that includes parasites and molas, and so on...