New insights into ocean sunfish (Mola mola) abundance and seasonal distribution in the northeast Atlantic

Patricia Breen*, Ana Cañadas, Oliver Ó Cadhla, Mick Mackey, Meike Scheidat, Steve C.V. Geelhoed, Emer Rogan, Mark Jessopp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


The ocean sunfish, Mola mola, is the largest teleost fish in the world. Despite being found in all oceans of the world, little is known about its abundance and factors driving its distribution. In this study we provide the first abundance estimates for sunfish in offshore waters in the northeast Atlantic and the first record of extensive sunfish presence in these waters year-round. Abundance estimates and predictive distributions for sunfish in approximately 300,000 km² of the northeast Atlantic were derived from large scale offshore aerial surveys in 2015–2016 using distance sampling techniques. Generalized additive models of sunfish density were fitted to survey data from 17,360 km of line transect effort resulting in minimum abundance estimates of 12,702 (CI: 9,864-16,357) in the summer (Density = 0.043 ind/km²) and 8,223 individuals (CI: 6,178-10,946) (Density = 0.028 ind/km²) in the winter. Density surface models predicted seasonal shifts in distribution and highlighted the importance of the mixed layer depth, possibly related to thermoregulation following deep foraging dives. The abundance estimate and estimated daily consumption of 2,600 tonnes of jellyfish in the northeast Atlantic highlights the need to re-assess the importance of this species in the pelagic ecosystem, and its role in top-down control of jellyfish blooms.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2025
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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