Photographer Encounters Enormous, ‘Alien’ Fish in the Deep Ocean

Giant sunfish and photographer

A photographer has shared the story — and a magnificent photo — of his encounter with a huge alien-like ocean sunfish.

Mark Girardeau from Southern California posted the picture to his Instagram page which shows the scale of these massive creatures. Incredibly, the individual he met was only 400 lbs — small for an ocean sunfish.

Giant sunfish


“From the surface, you mostly just see the upper fin sticking above the water but once you jump in when the water is clear, it’s just the craziest experience!” Girardeau tells USA Today. “The water was still and the ocean was a deep-blue color that day so you could just swim right over to this massive fish and it was fine with it.”

Ocean sunfish are also known as Mola mola and it is fairly uncommon to see one because they roam in pelagic waters miles from the shore; most sightings occur from boats.

Mola molas live in temperate and tropical waters where they feed on jellyfish, small fish, and squid. The photo of Girardeau was taken last summer between Newport Beach and San Clemente Island in water over 3,000 feet deep.

“I don’t post many photos of myself so here it is the real me (on the left)!” Girardeau wrote on Instagram. “Thanks to [Delaney Trowbridge] and her underwater housing for capturing this moment in time.”

Delaney Trowbridge, who took the photo, is a talented photographer like Girardeau and tells USA Today that the encounter was a “dream come true… coming face to face with one of the strangest fish on Earth!”

“It wasn’t difficult at all to jump into 3,000 feet of open water to swim alongside this beautiful Mola mola,” she continues.

“Accompanying this gentle giant was a lone pilotfish, a very rare species for Southern California, more often encountered in tropical waters. I can’t blame the little guy for visiting us though, it sure felt like we were swimming in Hawaii!”

Ocean sunfish
The ocean sunfish as it looks from the surface.

More of Girardeau’s work can be found on his Instagram and website.

Image credits: Courtesy of Mark Girardeau and Delaney Trowbridge.