Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi (Giglioli 1883)

Other Names: Ramsay's Ocean Sunfish, Ramsay's Sunfish, Short Ocean Sunfish, Southern Ocean Sunfish, Southern Sunfish

A Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi. Source: Rob Harcourt. License: All rights reserved


Ocean sunfishes of the genus Mola, are unusual fishes that lack a true tail or caudal fin. Instead, they has a clavus, a rudder-like structure formed from extensions of the dorsal and anal fin rays. The clavus is broadly rounded and often has a scalloped margin of low, rounded projections (called ossicles).

Although very similar to the Ocean Sunfish, Mola mola, the clavus of the Short Sunfishhas more ossicles, and lacks the vertical band of denticles at its base. In Bali, Indonesia, Short Sunfish are often seen gathering at cleaning stations to have parasites removed by Schooling Bannerfish.

Video of a Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi.

Mola ramsayi being cleaned by Schooling Bannerfish at Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia.

A juvenile Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi, swimming near the surface at Manly, Sydney, 26 November 2016.

Mola ramsayi and Schooling Bannerfish around Nusa Lembongan/Penida, Bali, Indonesia.

Mola ramsayi in Crystal Bay, Nusa Penida, Bali, Indonesia.

Cite this page as:
Dianne J. Bray, Mola ramsayi in Fishes of Australia, accessed 23 Nov 2017,

Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi (Giglioli 1883)

More Info


An oceanic inhabitant found throughout the subtropical and temperate Southern Ocean; on rare occasions enters inshore waters including large estuaries. In Australian waters, known from northern New South Wales, around the south to about Geographe Bay, Western Australia, including Tasmania. Also recorded from Lord Howe Island.

Mola ramsayi is the most frequently encountered sunfish in southern Australia.


Dorsal-fin rays 15–18; Anal-fin rays 15–18; Clavus 16 rays, ~12 ossicles; Pectoral-fin rays 11.

Body depth 65–88% SL; head length 29–39% SL; rough textured denticles covering body to base of caudal fin; clavus ossicles close together, much broader than spaces between; skin on rear of body uniform in texture with no visible band of reduced denticles at the base of clavus extending from dorsal fin to anal fin.


Dull brown to greyish above, paling to whitish below, with or without pale spots and blotches.


Once thought to be relatively inactive fishes that fed on pelagic gelatinous animals, recent research and sightings indicate that molas undertake deep-water forays to feed on colonial animals such as siphonophores.


Little is known of the biology of the Short Sunfish.


Similar Species

Species Citation

Orthragoriscus ramsayi Giglioli, 1883, Nature 28: 315. Type locality: off New South Wales.


Dianne J. Bray

Short Sunfish, Mola ramsayi (Giglioli 1883)


Allen, G.R., Hoese, D.F., Paxton, J.R., Randall, J.E., Russell, B.C., Starck, W.A., Talbot, F.H. & Whitley, G.P. 1976. Annotated checklist of the fishes of Lord Howe Island. Records of the Australian Museum 30(15): 365-454 figs 1-2

Bass A.L., Dewar H., Thys T.M., Streelman J.T. & Karl S.A. 2005. Evolutionary divergence among lineages of ocean sunfish family, Molidae (Tetraodontiformes). Marine Biology 148: 405–414.

Bray, D.J. 2008. Family Molidae. pp. 858-861 in Gomon. M.F., Bray, D.J. & Kuiter, R.H (eds). Fishes of Australia's Southern Coast. Sydney : Reed New Holland 928 pp.

Fraser-Brunner, A. 1951. The ocean sunfishes (family Molidae). Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) Historical Series 1(6): 89-121 figs 1-18

Giglioli, E.H. 1883. Zoology at the Fisheries Exhibition II. Notes on the Vertebrata. Nature (London) 28: 313-316

Glover, C.J.M. 1994. Family Molidae. pp. 915-920, figs 808-810 in Gomon, M.F., Glover, C.J.M. & Kuiter, R.H. (eds). The Fishes of Australia's South Coast. Adelaide : State Printer 992 pp. 810 figs.

Hutchins, J.B. 2001. Molidae. pp. 3966-3968 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds). The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381-4218.

Hutchins, J.B. & Thompson, M. 1983. The Marine and Estuarine Fishes of South-western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 103 pp. 345 figs.

Last, P.R., Scott, E.O.G. & Talbot, F.H. 1983. Fishes of Tasmania. Hobart : Tasmanian Fisheries Development Authority 563 pp. figs.

Nyegaard, M., Sawai, E., Gemmell, N., Gillum, J., Loneragan, N.R., Yamanoue, Y., Stewart, A.L. 2017. Hiding in broad daylight: molecular and morphological data reveal a new ocean sunfish species (Tetraodontiformes: Molidae) that has eluded recognition. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society zlx040. doi: 10.1093/zoolinnean/zlx040 Abstract

Phillips, N.D., Harrod, C., Gates, A.R., Thys, T.M. & Houghton, J.D.R. 2015. Seeking the sun in deep, dark places: mesopelagic sightings of ocean sunfishes (Molidae). Journal of Fish Biology 87: 1118–1126. doi: 10.1111/jfb.12769 Abstract

Scott, T.D., Glover, C.J.M. & Southcott, R.V. 1974. The Marine and Freshwater Fishes of South Australia. Adelaide : Government Printer 392 pp. figs.

Swainston, R. 2011. Swainston's Fishes of Australia: The complete illustrated guide. Camberwell, Victoria : Penguin Australia 836 pp.

Thys, T.M., J. Whitney, A. Hearn, K.C. Weng, C. Peñaherrera, L. Jawad, J. Alfaro-Shigueto, J.C. Mangel & S.A. Karl. 2013. First record of the southern ocean sunfish, Mola ramsayi, in the Galápagos Marine Reserve. Marine Biodiversity Records 6: e70 doi:10.1017/S1755267213000377. 

Waite, E.R. 1921. Illustrated catalogue of the fishes of South Australia. Records of the South Australian Museum (Adelaide) 2(1): 1-208 293 figs pl. 1

Whitley, G.P. 1933. Sunfishes. Victorian Naturalist 49: 207-213

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37470001

Depth:0-5000 metres

Habitat:Pelagic, mesopelagic, oceanic

Max Size:3.3 metres

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CAAB distribution map