Sunfish are large, docile fish that have a wide range and can be found in tropical and temperate waters all around the globe.
They have one of the most fascinating growth rates of any vertebrates, starting out as tiny larvae no bigger than 2.5mm and growing into giants that can weigh as much as 5000 pounds.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at the sunfish population, and answer a question many of those interested in sunfish ask. Are sunfish endangered?
In short, yes, sunfish are currently endangered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the ocean sunfish as “Vulnerable.”
Are Sunfish Really Endangered?
Like many marine animals, sunfish are currently endangered, meaning there is a risk to the longevity of their population.
Sunfish are a crucial part of many marine ecosystems as they are one of the primary predators of jellyfish, fish larvae, squid, and more.
By feeding on these animals, it helps control the population and ensures that only the strongest of each species survive and breed.
Sadly, these animals face a number of threats that puts them at risk of extinction should nothing be changed.
How Rare Is The Sunfish?
There are currently five different species of Mola mola, also known as sunfish around the world.
They can be found in tropical waters in places such as Bali, as well as colder waters in the UK in the summertime.
Sunfish are found in tropical and subtropical oceans all around the world, but they are becoming increasingly rare and harder to find.
They spend a lot of their time in the depths of the ocean in the mesopelagic zone, often during the day as their prey takes shelter in the darkness.
However, if food is available near the surface they will not dive unnecessarily. Many sunfish spend most of their lives in shallow coastal waters where it is not possible to dive into the deep.
These fish are highly adaptable and learn quickly how to exploit food sources to ensure they expend as little energy as possible.
That said, most sunfish prefer to live away from the coastline, often between 60 – 125 miles off the coast in deep waters where they can dive for food.
Sunfish mothers can lay up to 300 million eggs at a time, but many of these are eaten by predators before they get a chance to grow into the giants they become when reaching adulthood.
The survival rate of sunfish eggs is incredibly slim, and only around 0.0003% of sunfish eggs will make it into adulthood.
If you’re lucky enough to spot a sunfish in the wild, it will likely be sunbathing near the surface, an activity they love to do in order to heat themselves up after diving to the icy depths.
They can sometimes be found lying on their sides, flapping their dorsal fins near the surface, but it’s incredibly rare to see a sunfish in the wild.
Like many marine animals, sunfish are faced with a number of threats that cause a significant impact on their overall populations all around the world.
Sunfish are currently endangered, which may seem strange at first given that nobody eats these fish and they have no real commercial value.
So why are they being fished to near extinction? Sunfish are not targeted for human consumption, but they are still caught.
Some sunfish can be as large as 14-feed in length and weigh as much as 5,000 pounds, they are certainly not small fish and can easily become caught or tangled in fishing nets.
In California, reported estimates are that 14 percent to 61 percent of the fish caught by people seeking swordfish is sunfish.
In South Africa, sunfish make up 29 percent to 79 percent of the catch intended for horse mackerel, whilst in the Mediterranean, a whopping 75 to 95 percent of the total catch for swordfish is sunfish.
This clearly shows that there is a real bycatch issue where these giant fish are being accidentally caught as a result of people seeking other fish.
Hit By Boats
Another surprising impact on the overall sunfish population is due to their size and their love for sunbathing near the surface.
Being hit by boats can leave sunfish wounded and often results in their death. Boat propellers can take large chunks out of these fish as they are sunbathing at the surface.
This can mean the fish loses its ability to swim efficiently and can no longer dive in order to feed.
Due to the size of most sunfish, they have very few natural predators. However, sea lions, orcas, and large sharks will consume them if given the chance.
Sea lions will rip and tear chunks out of sunfish purely for fun, oftentimes ripping their dorsal fins off and using them as frisbees to play with.
One of the primary food sources for sunfish is jellyfish, and sadly they look incredibly similar to plastic bags that can be found floating around the ocean.
These bags can become stuck in the throat and stomachs of sunfish, which prevents them from eating and often results in death.
So, are sunfish endangered? Yes, sadly they are. These fish face a variety of threats due to their size and preferences.
Although most of the time they dive deep into the twilight zone to hunt for their prey, they must also come back to the surface to heat themselves up from the warm sun.
This can put them in danger of being struck by boats or caught in bycatch by fishermen seeking other fish.
Sunfish are not fished for human consumption but are still caught in mass numbers accidentally as a result of bycatch.
These giant fish are becoming increasingly rare, with numbers declining as a whole.
Their reproduction rate is slow, and their survival rate is also very low, meaning conservation efforts need to increase to see this animal escape extinction.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you’ve learned something new today about sunfish and the dangers they face in the ocean.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to share it with others who may find it helpful.
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Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years and I’ve spent decades learning and dedicating myself to documenting all I can about the topic.