Ocean Sunfish 

Mola mola (Linnaeus, 1758)

View scientific description and taxonomy

Scientific Details

Dorsal fin spines/rays: 15-18
Anal fin spines/rays: 15-18
Caudal fin rays: (clavus) 12
Pectoral fin rays: 11-13

Interpreting fin count meristics.
Spines are in Roman numerals and soft rays are in Arabic numerals. Spines and rays that are continuous in one fin are separated by a comma. Fin sections are separated by semicolons.

Detailed descriptions of fin count and other meristics are in:
Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds) (2008) Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Order level detail.
The Tetraodontiformes is a very diverse and specialized group of bony fishes that share the loss, reduction or fusion of many bony structures in the head and body. Fins and their supporting elements are reduced or lost, and vertebrae are reduced in number. They have small mouths with modified teeth that may be enlarged or fused into a beak-like structure, or incorporated into the jaw bones. The gill opening is reduced to a small slit near the pectoral-fin base, and most have thick skin, covered in scales that are modified into spines, ossicles or fused bony plates. Some groups are poisonous, and the puffers and porcupinefishes are highly inflatable. Puffers adn their allies are found worldwide in temperate and tropical seas, and a few species enter freshwaters.

Family level detail.
Ocean sunfishes of the family Molidae are the largest bony fishes in the world. These breathtaking oceanic giants have a unique body shape, with deep compressed bodies, high dorsal and anal fins at the rear and a truncated tail region. Instead of a caudal fin, molids have a clavus (meaning rudder in Latin) - a deep, stiff lobe at the end of the body formed from extensions of the dorsal and anal fin rays. Widespread in tropical and temperate waters, usually in the open ocean far offshore. Most inshore records are based on specimens washed ashore.



General Description

Body very deep, slightly oblong to nearly circular in lateral profile, with thick leathery skin covered in rough denticles; caudal fin absent, replaced by a clavus; clavus with a scalloped margin, supported by about 12 rays, with 8-9 rays bearing widely separated ossicles, and a visible band of reduced denticles (smoother to the touch than surrounding skin) at base between dorsal and anal fins; pectoral fin small, rounded, not fitting into shallow groove on side of body. Dull brown or greyish above becoming whitish below, sides occasionally spotted. To 4 m.


Sunfishes feed mainly on soft-bodied invertebrates, such as jellyfishes, salps and ctenophores.


Tropical and temperate seas, typically oceanic but occasionally coming inshore, mostly seen at ocean surface but can descend to deep water.

Open water

Distribution guide


Species Group

Fishes Sunfishes


Shallow (1-30 m)
Deep ( > 30 m)

Water Column

Midwater Surface

Max Size

4 m

Commercial Species


Global Dispersal

Recorded in Australia

Conservation Status

  • DSE Advisory List : Not listed
  • EPBC Act 1999 : Not listed
  • IUCN Red List : Not listed


article author Bray, D.J.

Di Bray is a Senior Collection Manager of ichthyology at Museum Victoria.


article author Gomon, M.F.

Dr. Martin Gomon is a Senior Curator of ichthyology at Museum Victoria.


Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. & Gomon, M.F., 2011, Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, in Taxonomic Toolkit for marine life of Port Phillip Bay, Museum Victoria, accessed 12 Jul 2020,

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