On Tuesday 29 August 2017, the Two Oceans Aquarium was once again super-privileged to be able to rescue an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) from the Robertson Dry Dock next to the Aquarium and to release it back into the harbour at the V&A Waterfront.

Thanks to the quick reaction of our staff, Summit Crane Hire and H&I Construction, this beautiful sunfish is back in the ocean.

The “flying sunfish” was helped to safety by Two Oceans Aquarium Operations Manager Tinus Beukes, Aquarist II Michelle Kirshenbaum and Conservation Coordinator Talitha Noble. Thanks to the generous help of Summit Crane Hire and H&I Construction Site Agent Vincent Emmerich, we were able to airlift the sunfish out of the dry dock.  The story began yesterday, Monday 28 August, when our CEO Michael Farquhar spotted the tell-tail fin of a sunfish poking out of the water in the dry dock. Since then Tinus and his team have been on standby, waiting for the water to be low enough to perform a successful rescue operation.

This amazing sunfish was spotted trapped in the dry dock at the V&A Waterfront, in need of assistance.

Shallow waters are not suitable for a ocean dwelling sunfish, intervention was needed to get it back into deep waters.

That time came at 3pm today and we mobilised quickly and efficiently – wetsuits, crane and truck in tow.

The Two Oceans Aquarium team enters the water of the dry dock to secure the struggling sunfish for rescue.

As gently as possible, our team secured the sunfish to a board so that it could be lifted out of the dry dock by a crane. Thanks for the photo Michelle Kirshenbaum.

Thanks to the generousity of Summit Crane Hire, the sunfish soars to freedom.

That crane made this look easy! Phew this is a heavy fish!

Sunfish are usually covered in parasites, but for some reason this particular sunfish was in pristine condition with no visible parasites on its body.

What a beautiful fish! There is no need for this sunfish to recover at the Aquarium, so we decided to release it into the ocean immediately.

“Whenever we come across a sunfish that is clearly suffering from an overload of parasites, we bring it in-house to give it some special medical care to help clear up some of the parasites. Today’s sunfish, however, had no such worries – it was in the perfect condition for us to release it straight back into the open waters of the harbour, with no treatment needed”, said Two Oceans Aquarium Curator Maryke Musson.

Our curatorial staff give the sunfish a quick examination to ensure it is without illness or injury before release.

However, before we released it we made sure to get a clip of the sunfish’s fin in order to send it to marine biologist Dr Tierny Thys. We have been working with Dr Thys for many years now, helping her collect sunfish DNA for her global sunfish research work.

A small tissue sample is taken to aid global sunfish research.

Ocean sunfish are incredible animals. Very little is known about them and they have extremely endearing physical characteristics, which makes every opportunity to help or interact with them a true privilege. There was much joy and elation among everyone who looked on after the sunfish waved goodbye.  

With a quick splash, this sunfish goes free.

More interesting facts about these gentle giants

  • Sunfish are so called because of their habit of drifting at the surface as if basking in the sun.
  • Sunfish do not have tails as other fishes do – the caudal (tail) fin has been replaced by a rudder-like structure.
  • The ocean sunfish has a rounded, wavy rudder.
  • All sunfish have small mouths and the teeth are fused together in each jaw, forming a beak like that of a parrot. The beak is internal and hidden from view.
  • Sunfish feed on jellies. It is remarkable that an animal that grows to such a large size subsists on a diet with very little nutritional value.
  • Sunfish are not considered edible as they consist mainly of cartilage and gristle and their flesh is soft and insipid.
  • They are the most fertile of all fishes, producing up to 300 million tiny eggs.
  • The name “mola” is derived from the Latin word for millstone because of their similar shape.

With a wave of a fin – this Mola mola bids its rescuers farewell. Safe travels little one!


[Source Two Oceans Aquarium Website https://www.aquarium.co.za/blog/entry/flying-sunfish-rescue-and-release-at-the-va-waterfront]