Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31: Pesce Luna

My husband, a friend, and I chartered a pelagic trip today with John Drury of Greens Island and his boat Fluke. The day was perfect, seas calm, sun bright. Hundreds of Wilson's storm-petrels danced around the boat. We visited great cormorant nesting colonies harangued by bald eagles, watched shining white gannets dive. A parasitic jaeger chased down terns, engaging in relentless but thrilling aerial combats to steal their fish. Puffins buzzed past, carrying fish to young in burrows on Seal Island. We came upon a raft of at least 50 greater shearwaters just hanging out together, completely unfazed by the boat. Porpoises leapt, dorsal fins catching the light above the water's smooth surface.

I think the highlight of this beautiful day exploring the waters and islands of Penobscot Bay, however, was the ocean sunfish. John had slowed the boat down so we could get closer to a jaeger sitting on the water. As I watched the bird through my binoculars, I noticed a floppy fin emerge from the water behind it. The jaeger flew off, momentarily distracting us, but when I pointed out the fin, we moved closer to check it out.

The ocean sunfish or mola mola is one weird-looking fish. It's difficult to tell which way is up--it looks like a giant head with floppy little fins. John told us that in Spanish it's called a pesce luna, a moonfish. Given its round shape and pale form in the water, that makes more sense than "sunfish." The fish lolled in plain sight, submerged briefly, then resurfaced a little farther away. John worried that there might be something wrong with it, as its responses seemed a bit slow. I'm not sure how you could tell if there was really something wrong with a creature that looks so strange. The only other one I've ever seen before behaved in this same way, although that time I wasn't so fortunate as to be so close.

The pesce luna was truly fascinating. It made my day.

Sunfish, pale moon face,
you roll your ocean secrets
through the bay's dark depths.

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