Sunfish in the NE Pacific - California to Alaska
The first ever report of a Hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) in California in 2019, less than two years after the species was first described in New Zealand, came as a huge surprise: Mola tecta was thought to be a temperate southern hemisphere species with the warm equatorial waters presenting a major barrier to its distribution. Only lost individuals were thought to turn up in the northern hemisphere on an extremely limited basis. However, since 2019, numerous hoodwinkers have “surfaced” in the NE Pacific. What on earth are they doing there?? Have they always been there, or did they arrive recently? Are they a signal of our changing climate, or is the NE Pacific a natural range extension for this species?
Whatever the answer, it is now clear that Mola tecta has a presence in the Californian Current System beyond infrequent, chance occurrences. Here, they co-occur with the “usual sunfish suspect” in these waters, the famous Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola.
To better understand the spatial extent of Mola tecta in the NE Pacific, we are using crowd-sourced information from citizen scientist to collect and curate sunfish photos from California to Alaska. The information is used to map species level occurrences of both Mola tecta, and its congener, Mola mola. Our aim is to better understand how common Mola tecta is in this area, relative to Mola mola, and (through genetic analysis) examine the connectivity with Mola tecta in South America and New Zealand.
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Thank you to everyone who donated to our project! Our GoFundMe campaign reached its goal (thanks again!) and is now closed, but you can still make a sunfish happy and make a donation to our organisation. All contributions big and small are greatly appreciated, and goes to fuelling the upkeep of our webpage and our citizen science project in Bali: Match My Mola.
In the media
- Kodiak Daily (March 2021): Researchers ask public to report sightings of rarely encountered sunfish for study
- Listverse (March 2021): 10 Bizzarre objects found on beaches – Hoodwinker
- CBC (Feb 2021): Meet the hoodwinker, the ocean sunfish we misidentified for years
- USA Today (Feb 2020): How a bizarre, monster fish hoodwinked researchers and reeled in a wave of citizen scientists
- Monterey Bay Aquarium (Sep 2019): Major Mola Moment: First Confirmed Hoodwinker Sunfish Photographed in Monterey Bay!!
- iNaturalist (March 2019): Holy Mola! – The Oral History of an iNat Identification
- The Current (Feb 2019): Hoodwinked!