Sunfish are the largest of the bony fish. They can be found in many tropical and subtropical waters, including the Atlantic and Pacific.
They often dive deep into the icy depths to feed on jellyfish and other crustaceans before returning to sunbathe on the surface of the ocean to reheat warm-up.
They can grow up to 14 feet in length and weigh up to 5,000 pounds. Feeding primarily on jellyfish, small fish, and crustaceans, they are fascinating fish that are incredibly mysterious.
In this post, we’re going to take a look at some of the sunfish predators and take a closer look at how the sunfish defends itself.
Let’s get into it…
Do Sunfish Have Predators?
Due to the sheer size of the sunfish, they have very few natural predators in the wild. However, they are not safe from all animals in the ocean and do indeed have predators.
Predators are essential for keeping populations in balance. They help to ensure that only the strongest animals of each species survive, which helps species to evolve over the long term.
Healthy marine ecosystems rely on predators to remove old, sick, or injured animals, and provide food for other animals which allows them to become successful.
What Are The Sunfish Predators?
Although the sunfish doesn’t have many natural predators, there are a few that will not pass up on the opportunity to snack on a sunfish.
One of the main predators of sunfish is sea lions, which interestingly enough don’t even view the fish as a food source.
Sea lions bite chunks out of sunfish for fun and have been known to rip off their fins and use them as a sort of frisbee to play with and have fun.
Although sea lions rip the fins off sunfish and take large chunks out of them, they do not consume them.
Orca, also known as killer whales are apex predators of the ocean and dominate by hunting in pods and using their supreme intelligence.
A sunfish is no match for an orca, especially not a pod of them. These giant fish are easy to spot and have no real defense when being attacked by an orca, so it’s an easy meal for these giant dolphins.
They too will play with sunfish, throwing and flipping them around before consuming them.
Some large species of shark such as the great white shark will certainly not pass up on the opportunity of a sunfish meal.
Their large jaws and razor-sharp teeth rip chunks out of the sunfish, chomping them down to bite-size pieces before consuming the fish.
Great white sharks are top predators of the ocean and can easily and effortlessly overpower even the largest of sunfish.
We humans also pose a threat to the sunfish population through means such as bycatch.
This is when fish, including sunfish, are unintentionally caught whilst fishing for other species, such as swordfish or mackerel.
For example, in California, it’s estimated that between 14 and 61 percent of fish caught by people fishing for swordfish are actually sunfish.
Bycatch is a real problem for many ocean species, and due to the sunfish’s size, it can easily become entangled and trapped inside trawler nets.
How Do Sunfish Defend Themselves?
A mother sunfish can lay as many as 3 million eggs each time, but many of these are eaten by predators before they even have a chance of survival.
In fact, the survival rate for sunfish eggs is around 0.0003%, which means only 3 of the 3 million eggs are likely to survive and reach adulthood.
The lucky few juvenile sunfish protect themselves by living in schools, as there is safety in numbers in the ocean.
Once the fish reach adulthood, they isolate themselves and take on the big blue ocean alone. This means that one of their forms of defense has gone, and now the fish are defenseless from predators.
That said, the location in which they live and feed can be looked at as a form of defense. They often dive into the depths of the twilight zone, where their natural predators are unable to go.
The sunfish resides in areas of the ocean where most sharks, orca, and sea lions are simply unable to visit, which offers them protection when diving into the deep.
However, when they come back to the surface they are most vulnerable to attacks from predators.
The size of the sunfish alone is usually enough to deter most predators from attacking, as some of these fish can be gigantic and reach lengths of up to 10 – 14 feet.
Are Sunfish Rare?
The Mola mola, also known as the sunfish is currently endangered due to the number of threats it faces in the ocean.
These fish are caught as bycatch regularly by fishing trawlers all over the world which is incredibly damaging to their population as a whole.
Sunfish are becoming rarer by the day as their numbers decline through being hit by boats, bycatch, and their natural predators.
The survival rate of sunfish eggs is already incredibly low, which means that to prevent these fish from becoming extinct in the future, conservation efforts will need to be ramped up significantly.
Despite the sunfish’s lack of defense, it has surprisingly few predators that look at this fish as a food source.
The few sunfish predators that inhabit the oceans are rarely seen in the same habitats as sunfish, which means the sunfish can live its life and go about its business relatively unthreatened.
That said, when orca, sea lions, or sharks do come across a sunfish bathing on the surface, they will certainly not pass up on the chance for a free and easy meal.
Hopefully, this post has been helpful and you’ve learned something new today about sunfish predators.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post and feel free to stick around to learn more about sunfish and other marine life.
Hi, I’m George – the founder of MarinePatch. I created this blog as marine wildlife has been my passion for many years. I’ve spent over a decade in the marine wildlife industry and spent years out in the field conducting research. In today’s modern world, an online blog is the best place for me to share my findings and reach as many people as possible to help educate and inspire others. Enjoy your time here and you’re welcome back anytime!