I took a hike around Great Island hike in Wellfleet yesterday with a college friend and his wife. A mere 14 mile, four hour slog to the tip of Jeremy Point under scudding purple December clouds with the Pilgrim monument in Provincetown a prominent finger to the north. Our only company was a half-dozen orange coated hunters with shotguns — one of whom told us to stay out of the woods unless we too were wearing orange, which we were not. So out of the woods we stayed and to the beach we went.
We walked down the bay side beach, made it south to the point, and then returned along the inner beach facing Wellfleet Harbor, stepping over countless clumps of wild oysters sitting on the sand, begging to be picked up. Near the end of the walk, inside the cove and marsh, we came upon a large, white, grey blob the size of a table laying in the wrack and flotsam.
It stank. It was gelatinous, and in an advanced state of decay. I looked for a minute and deduced it was a dead ocean sunfish, or Mola mola, one of the weirder fish in the sea.
First — they are all head. Seriously. No body to speak of. Just a massive head with fins.
Second — they are the heaviest fish in the sea, weighing up to 2,200 pounds.
Third — they swim very very slowly, preferring to drift on their side, right on the surface, sunning themselves as befits their name.
Fourth — their fin flaps lazily overhead in the air as they bask and some people mistake that fin for a shark.
This one is one of the dozen or so that have stranded on the Cape this fall. When the temperatures plunge the fish are stunned and can’t survive. According to the Cape Cod Times:
“The Mola mola is a frequent visitor to Cape waters and the season is under way for finding them stranded on the shores of Cape Cod Bay, Carson said. Although there are three types of ocean sunfish, the Mola mola is the one most likely to be sighted off the Cape’s shores.”
Here is link to a gallery of photos at the Time’s website of a marine biologist examining a dead Mola mola on a Cape Cod Bay beach in Brewster in October.