Sharptail Sunfish, Masturus lanceolatus (Liénard 1840)

Other Names: Point-tailed Sunfish, Trunkfish

A Sharptail Sunfish, Masturus lanceolatus. Source: H. Sugiyama. License: All rights reserved


A rare but widely distributed sunfish with a very deep, oval-shaped body and a distinctly pointed extension on the middle of the clavus (tail). Unlike other large ocean sunfishes, the margin of the clavus is not scalloped.

Video of a Sharptail Sunfish in the Galapagos - taken by The Lindblad Expeditions team aboard the National Geographic Polaris.

Video of a Sharptail Sunfish accidentally captured in Cobb midwater trawl by fishery scientists operating in waters off American Samoa.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2024, Masturus lanceolatus in Fishes of Australia, accessed 19 Apr 2024,

Sharptail Sunfish, Masturus lanceolatus (Liénard 1840)

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Off Coffs Harbour, New South Wales, to off Rottnest Island, Western Australia; also recorded form Norfolk Island in the Tasman Sea. Elsewhere the species is circumglobal in oceanic waters of all tropical and temperate seas in depths to at least 670 m.


Dorsal-fin rays: 15-19; Anal-fin rays: 15-19

Body very deep (approx. 55-66% SL), oval in profile, posterior edge nearly vertical, sides greatly compressed, flat. Head large (approx. 31-37% SL), dorsal profile above or behind eyes not distinctly concave; eyes small; mouth small, forming oval closure; teeth in each jaw fused into two beak-like plates; small gill opening on each side anterior to pectoral fin. 
Scales absent;  skin very thick and leathery, covered with horny, rough textured denticles; lateral line not apparent. 
Single short based high dorsal fin, situated at posterior extreme of body; anal fin similar to and opposite dorsal fin, but with a distinctly shorter base; caudal fin replaced by rudder-like clavus fringing posterior margin of body between dorsal and anal fins, clavus with prominent pointed extension just above centre of posterior margin, at least as long as head, margin of clavus not scalloped. Pectoral fins small and rounded. Ventral fins absent.


Reaches more than 3 m in total length.


Adults are a uniform dull brown or greyish-brown with whitish patches developing after death. Larvae are blue above, white below.


Like other species in the family Molidae, the Sharptail Sunfish feeds mostly on gelatinous organisms such as siphonophores and jellyfishes.


Like other sunfishes, the sharptail sunfish, passes through a series of spiny spherical forms in its larval and post-larval phases. Little else is known of its biology, which is presumed to be similar to that of other species in the family Molidae. This species is encountered much less frequently than Mola species.
Image of a juvenile Sharptail Sunfish trawled from a depth of 40 metres in the Coral Sea, northeast of Queensland.


Taken in commercial fisheries in parts of its range. The species is caught by set net, drift net and longline fisheries in the coastal and offshore waters of eastern Taiwan.


The specific name is from the Latin lanceolatus (= having the form of a lance, lanceolate), in reference to the shape of the clavus (where the dorsal and anal fins merge), forming a tail-like triangular lobe.

Species Citation

Orthagoriscus lanceolatus Lienard, 1840, Revue et Magasin de Zoologie (Paris): 291. Type locality: Port Louis, Mauritius.


Bray, D.J. 2024


Atlas of Living Australia

Sharptail Sunfish, Masturus lanceolatus (Liénard 1840)


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.

Britz, R. & Johnson, G.D. 2005. Occipito-vertebral fusion in ocean sunfishes (Teleostei: Tetraodontiformes: Molidae) and its phylogenetic implications. Journal of Morphology 266: 74–79.

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

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.

Heemstra, P.C., 1986. Molidae. p. 907-908. In M.M. Smith and P.C. Heemstra (eds.) Smiths' sea fishes. Springer-Verlag, Berlin.

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.

Katayama, E. & Matsuura, K. 2016. Fine structure of scales of ocean sunfishes (Actinopterygii, Tetraodontiformes, Molidae): another morphological character supporting phylogenetic relationships of the molid genera. Bulletin of the National Museum of Nature and Science (Ser. A) 42(2): 95-98.

Leis, J.L., Matsuura, K., Shao, K.-T., Hardy, G., Zapfe, G., Liu, M., Jing, L., Robertson, R. & Tyler, J. 2015. Masturus lanceolatus (errata version published in 2017). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2015: e.T193634A115330232. Downloaded on 28 July 2020.

Liénard, R.P. 1840. Description d'une nouvelle espèce du genre mole (Orthagoriscus Schn.) découverte á l'île Maurice. Revue et Magasin de Zoologie (Paris) 3: 291-292.

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: 154-160.

Nyegaard, M., Loneragan, N., Hall, S., Andrew, J., Sawai, E. & Nyegaard, M. 2018. Giant jelly eaters on the line: Species distribution and bycatch of three dominant sunfishes in the Southwest Pacific. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. 207: 1-15. 

Santini, F. & Tyler, J.C. 2002. Phylogeny of the ocean sunfishes (Molidae, Tetraodontiformes), a highly derived group of teleost fishes. Italian Journal of Zoology 69: 37-43.

Seitz, A.C., Weng, K.C., Boustany, A.M. & Block, B.A. 2002. Behavior of a sharptail mola in the Gulf of Mexico. Journal of Fish Biology 60: 1597–1602.

Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. 2015. 250 Family Molidae. pp. 1745-1748 in Roberts, C.D., Stewart, A.L. & Struthers, C.D. (eds). The Fishes of New Zealand. Wellington : Te Papa Press Vol. 4 pp. 1153-1748.

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37470003

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:0-670 m

Habitat:Pelagic, mesopelagic, oceanic

Max Size:337 cm TL; 2000 kg

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CAAB distribution map