EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

August 31, 2013

Sunfish making a splash along beaches

PLUM ISLAND — There are few things in life that can cause a more gut-wrenching fear than spotting a large, black fin emerging from the ocean nearby.

It’s happened a few times this summer on Plum Island and elsewhere along our coast. But more than likely, it isn’t a hungry shark looking to strike fear into the hearts of beachgoers.

Instead it’s one of nature’s most unusual fish species, one that has to be seen to be believed.

It’s the mola mola, also known as the Ocean Sunfish, a bizarre-looking fish that can grow to be 2,000 pounds or more. According to some accounts received by our sister paper, The Daily News of Newburyport, the waters off our local beaches are seeing a larger influx of them this summer — or at the very least, a handful are being seen often.

Sightings have been going on all summer along Plum Island, as well as Seabrook Beach, as recently as this week. Sightings have also been made in the mouth of the Merrimack River, in one case near the Plum Island Basin.

“The guys (on the charter boats) have seen a lot of them this year,” said George Charos, owner of the Captain’s Lady party boats on Plum Island. “We had a lot of them a few years ago, and now this year there seems to be more of them again. I’m not sure why they are coming back.”

Tony LaCasse, spokesman for New England Aquarium, said a group of aquarium scientists recently encountered an unusually large number of mola mola in the waters north of Cape Ann, which is relatively close to Plum Island.

At Kay’s Surfland, a well-known Plum Island tackle shop, there have been some reports of mola molas, but “nothing too spectacular,” said owner Kay Moulton. One fisherman reported seeing an unusually large mola mola offshore.

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