Updated: Nov 7, 2022
There are many strange-looking fish but the one who takes the biscuit and is the all-time winner is, undoubtedly, the Mola-Mola. This bizarre disk-shaped giant, also known as the oceanic sunfish (or, interestingly, in French: Moonfish: 'Poisson Lune') is regularly spotted in Nusa Penida, Bali. To increase your chances of an encounter you may want to choose the best months, when they are most frequent.
So which months are they?
What is a mola mola?
These gentle giants (often growing up to 3m long from fin tip to fin tip) are shy creatures who like cold waters and the deep. They are, unfortunately for them - and fortunately for us -, plagued by many many parasites. In fact, they are amongst the species with the heaviest parasite load, sometimes up to 40 species on a single animal.
To rid themselves of their parasites, the Molas come up to shallower waters to 'cleaning stations' ,which are plentiful in Nusa Penida, and, which some people affectionately call the 'Manta ray / mola-mola Nusa Penida spa'! These are spots where small fish, juveniles, and certain specialist fish ( think cleaner wrasses and their comrades) come to get a free meal and help out big pelagics with their parasitic infestations by picking off the sea lice and other freeloading isopods off their skin and gills, they also clean up the dead skin and mucus giving their providers an all-around cleanse -and-scrub routine.
When to spot a mola mola in Nusa Penida?
Molas like cold water and are more likely to come up to shallower waters when the temperatures are low(er), and it just so happens that from May to November cold current upwellings chill the waters around Nusa Penida island.
Temperatures can drop to as low as 18 degrees, which the Molas love. Hence, if you start feeling slight shivers during your dive (5 mil wetsuits are a must in this season) look out for long-fin banner fish, one of Mola's favourite cleaners. They are easily recognisable with their long dorsal fin and black and yellow vertical stripes. When you see a big group of them buzzing around, looking busy, chances are a Mola is in the vicinity. When you spot one, stay calm and avoid rushing over to it, they are quite easily spooked. They can, however, have a relaxed time in your company, if you give them space, and carry on with their hygiene routine as if you were not even there. You may even have the time to really get a good look and hang out with them as they get cleaned.
They are often found quite deep though (18m to 40m) so make sure you keep an eye on your pressure gauge and your deco as you enjoy the encounter.
They are seen most often from July to October, so come and meet the biggest strangest looking fish in the sea.