Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Ocean Sunfish: Not Quite Unheard of in Long Island Sound

It seemed extremely unlikely that the ocean sunfish that had been seen in Larchmont last week was the first one ever to enter Long Island Sound, but of the people I asked, none of those who got back to me relatively quickly knew of any specific occurrences (see this and this). I didn’t hear from John Waldman though until late yesterday morning. John is a fisheries biologist at Queens College and the author of a number of books about marine life in and around New York.

Here’s what he told me about ocean sunfish:

I've never seen one in the Sound but I doubt that this is the first one ever to occur. Mola mola is a drifting cosmopolitan wanderer. Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut lists three records from the eastern Sound.

I saw one on the south shore but wish I'd seen this one too.

That sent me off to Google ‘Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut.” One of the references that popped up was for this – “Annotated list of fishes reported from the marine waters of New York,” by Phillip T. Briggs and John R. Waldman. Briggs is a lobster biologist who worked for the state and who was enormously helpful to me when I was researching my book and doing newspaper reporting on the Sound, back in the 1980s; not sure what happened to him, but I think he retired. Waldman is, well – Waldman.

I clicked through the “Annotated list” until I came to the Molas, and found that Briggs and Waldman had this to say:

Molidae (molas)

Ocean sunfish (Mola mola). Not uncommon in the summer. Nichols and Breder (1927) called it rare. NYSDEC personnel have seen it many times off the south shore of Long Island. We have observed it twice (1974 and 1985) off Port Jefferson in Long Island Sound.

So when John Waldman says he doubts that the Larchmont sunfish is the first one to occur in the Sound, he’s right, and his source is impeccable – it’s Waldman and Briggs (although John tells me that when they wrote "we have observed it ... off Port Jefferson," they really meant Briggs observed it).

(7 p.m. update: Jane O'Donnell (Manager of Scientific Collections, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Unit-3043, University of Connecticut) told me the following about ocean sunfish and "Saltwater Fishes of Connecticut":
I only have the original addition of the "Saltwater Fishes of CT" on hand; it lists two records form the sound (a third may have been added in any subsequent editions?).

I quote from page 154:

"A specimen of the ocean sunfish (Mola mola) was killed by the Coast Guard off New London in the late summer of 1966 and identified by the senior author. A second was captured off Branford in September 1970."

The book does not give any information as to where the specimens might be.


Blogger Sam said...

Tom, I had asked the good folks in the Abacos (http://abacoforum.com) if they had many sightings and they said yes, but not many and no pictures. Shame, they are quite a comical fish!

It seems they thrive where there is an ample supply of jellyfish. They of course prefer the Cannonball Jellyfish of the southern regions (Stomolophus meleagris).

Interestingly, the Leatherback Turtle feeds almost exclusively on the same kind of food. Have you seen any Leatherbacks in Long Island Sound as well?


7:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a fisherman and have seen several
ola Mola in the long island sound this year

10:50 PM  
Blogger bc said...

I saw one when i was sailing on sunday and i saw one as we rounded the mark near long island at first i thought it was a dolphin but the marine biologist on the boat quickly corrected me..

12:38 AM  
Blogger by dynphone said...

Memorial day weekend 2010 I have seen one sunfish measuring 5-6' From Dorsal to dorsal (aprox 350 lbs.) - dead and washed up at Robert Moses bayside lighthouse. In 25 years on the bay this is a I understand this special event.
It is early in the season for these creatures who like the warm gulf stream and maybe they are finding shelter in the warm LI.
The scatter of the BP spill is harrying all fish to doing things they would not ordinarily do.

8:55 AM  

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