The ocean sunfish is so improbable that even it looks astonished that it exists. The size alone is crazy. It can weigh up to 2,200 pounds, and grow to be the size of a small car that has been squashed flat by a larger car. How it does this is, mostly, a mystery.
Oh, the ocean sunfish has numbers on its side. The female ocean sunfish has the dubious distinction of producing the most eggs of any vertebrate on Earth. (My congratulations to the scientist who counted all three-hundred million that a female makes in a season.) Still, it doesn’t seem like hundreds of millions of offspring every year are enough to keep the population steady.
When sunfish start out, they look like this. Sure they’re adorable, but adorable doesn’t get you far when you’re in an ocean filled with sharks and orcas, and you look like someone granted consciousness (and pouty lips) to a speck of lint.
More importantly, the only thing the sunfish eats is jellyfish. I challenge any person reading this to eat only jellyfish and gain weight. You can’t do it. You don’t have the will. And yet these things do.
What’s more, when you see how these things swim, you have to ask yourself how they even catch the jellyfish.
Wait, let me get you a video. It has to be seen to be believed.
Do you see that? It’s like someone took away all four of a dinner table’s legs, and then gave it the wings of a medium-sized seagull, except they connected each wing to a different central nervous system. Its fins don’t work in unison. The thing can’t even keep vertical. Put it on a race track and it would get lapped by krill.
The sunfish (also known as the Mola mola, which comes from the latin word for “millstone”) grows to be the heaviest bony fish in the world and feeds at depths of 500 meters—which even sea turtles can’t reach. It hangs out in the open ocean, so the only time it can really be studied is when it comes to the surface. It does so frequently enough that it’s often caught on tape by extremely lucky people who don’t deserve their good fortune and whom I hate. Nobody is quite sure why they come to the surface. Some scientists think that the sunfish just needs to warm up, but when it does come up, it often lies flat like a big open-mouthed pool raft and lets seagulls on the surface, and small fish below the surface, clean it of parasites. Lucky gulls.
In conclusion, all other fish are inferior to the ocean sunfish. Hail the big, clumsy, vacant-eyed, blow-up-doll-mouthed monarch of the sea.
Top Image: Fred Hsu, Second Image; G. David Johnson