Sunfish in the NE Pacific - California to Alaska

Project background

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 surpriseMola 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.

Are you our

Submit sunfish photos (all species!) from California, Oregon, Washington State, British Columbia and Alaska. We are interested in all sunfish photos and video – of any sunfish species – not just Mola tecta.

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.

Project Team

Dr. Marianne Nyegaard
Project Lead

Ocean Sunfish Research Trust

Tor Mowatt-Larssen
Database Manager

Ocean sunfish Research Trust

Jackie Hildering
Communication and outreach

Marine Education & Research Society

Project presentation

Watch the project presentation from the Ocean Sunfish Symposium in February 2021:

In the media

Close Menu