How long do they live? Sharptail molas can live up to 105 years and likely longer [1]. This large, yet shy fish is a mystery and I hope that a mola researcher reaches out to help answer some of these questions.

Where are they found? Sharptail molas are found all over the ocean in tropical and temperate zones. They are even found in the Gulf of Mexico [2]. This is a shout out to my friend and colleague, Curtis Franklin. Please let me know if you ever come across one of these beauties while diving.

What do they eat? They grow to be very large and they feed on mollusks, fish, and many smaller creatures [3].

What do they look like? If you are familiar with the Ocean sunfish, then you’ll notice the similarities. Sharptail molas can grow to be 11 feet long and over 4,400 pounds [3]! Check out figures 1 and 2 for a better description than one I can put into words.

Figure 1. A Sharptail mola.
Figure 2. Sharptail molas rarely visit the ocean surface unless they are ill or dying.

How do they reproduce? These gentle giants are an oviparous species. The Sharptail mola’s relative, the Ocean sunfish, can produce 300 million eggs or more, but there’s no data indicating the fecundity of the Sharptail mola. There is also nothing on the age of sexual maturity or reproductive senescence of the Sharptail mola.

How do scientists know how old they are? The power of math. Through age estimations based on vertebra collected at fish markets alongside size estimations. These researchers also used Marginal Increment Ratios (MIR), which looks at the increments in vertebra to further verify age estimations [1].

So what are we lacking? As mentioned in the sections above we really don’t know much about this fish other than it grows to be very large, can live a long time, and is likely declining in numbers due to over-fishing.  Although there’s no nuclear information on the NCBI website for Sharptail molas, there is mitochondrial data available [5].

Conservation status: Sharptail molas are still listed as least concern on the IUCN website, which is an old estimation, but since 2009 Taiwan takes part in a large  yearly “kill all the mola festival” that may be impacting the numbers of these long-lived giants (120,000 or more molas per year).

  1. Liu, K.M., Lee, M.L., Joung, S.J. & Chang, Y.C. (2009). “Age and growth estimates of the sharptail mola, Masturus lanceolatus, in waters of eastern Taiwan”. Fisheries Research. 95 (2-3): 154–160. doi:10.1016/j.fishres.2008.08.013.
  2. Froese, Rainer and Pauly, Daniel, eds. (2009). Masturus lanceolatus in FishBase. March 2009 version.
  3. Harbison, G.R. and Janssen, J. (May 13, 1987). “Encounters with a Swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and Sharptail Mola (Masturus lanceolatus) at Depths Greater Than 600 Meters”. Copeia (American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists) 1987 (2): 511–513