The list of marine species documented for the Bird’s Head Seascape, which includes coral, reef fish, as well as sharks & rays, is the largest in the world and the epicenter of marine bio-diversity. This list isn’t complete however, and it seems to grow a little longer every week with new discoveries, just as it did last week when Raja Ampat’s first ocean sunfish (mola ramsayi) awkwardly paddled by Mermaid II as it sat moored up in the Dampier Straight.
Initially I thought the strange fin wobbling through the glassy surface was another manta as they often feed in this area and we had already seen several. As the mystery fin came closer it was clearly not a manta fin as it was round and moving very different from a mantas, possibly a batfish which often feed on the surface. I made a joke about it being a sun fish, something I’ve never seen and never expected to see on the surface in Raja. Just as I finished my quip, the glare from placid water subsided for a moment to reveal the creature responsible for the disturbance in my surface interval nap, was in fact an ocean sun fish!
As we had just finished diving thirty minutes before, everyone aboard Mermaid II was dry and fully dressed. Not for long though. Trousers and polo t-shirts were soon strewn about the dive platform and boxers became 100% cotton speedos in a rapid attempt to jump into the water and get a glimpse of one of the oceans most unusual species. Turns out we didn’t really need to rush as the fish amicably cruised through the shallow water. With the help of Mermaid’s two tenders, we were able to keep pace with the sun fish as the small boats would shuttle us and drop us in front so we could quietly wait on the surface as it approached. Once it passed us by we would get back in the ribs to be positioned again, like a game of Leap Frog. This continued for nearly an hour giving everyone multiple up close encounters.
Sun fish spend the majority of their life in the deep, living hundreds of meters below the surface and only come to the shallows for an occasional cleaning. So we all knew it was a really unusual occurrence to find one casually paddling along in the surface of the clear-blue twenty nine degree water. It wasn’t until we started posting the photos online that we realized it was actually the first ever sighting of a living ocean sun fish (mola ramsayi) in the Bird’s Head Seascape and now it will soon be number 1,565 on the regions immense species list!
Mermaid II Raja Ampat
Apr 15 – 23, 2017