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Dr. Tierney Thys
Science Editor, Sea Studios Foundation, Monterey, California
"Gathering Vital Baseline Data on the Giant Ocean Sunfish, Mola Mola, Using Satellite Tags and Global Genetic Analysis"
Category: Conservation of Animal Resources: 2000
The giant ocean sunfish, Mola Mola, is the largest and heaviest bony fish in the world. Recently, scientists have discovered that the population of ocean sunfish has been declining in both the Western and Eastern Pacific. In fact, Mola comprise an estimated 15% of the total observed by-catch from California drift net fisheries -- the largest of any species recorded. Although the Mola can be found in all tropical and temperate ocean waters, virtually nothing is known of their habits or population structure. Without this information, there is no way of determining whether the fluctuations in Mola populations are normal or indicate the possibility of local extinction. This project will provide the first comprehensive data about this giant ocean sunfish, and will be essential for assessing the long-term effects of fishing on Mola populations. Dr. Thys will use a new satellite archival tag that will monitor the movements of the animals, record data on temperature, swimming depth and light intensity. This will allow her and her team to document broad scale movements and foraging strategies in relation to both environmental parameters and commercial fishing operations. The tags will release from the animal at a pre-determined time and the information will be uploaded to a satellite where Dr. Thys will then have access to the information. Dr. Thys will also collect small bits of tissue from each animal for genetic analysis. This is the first study to combine genetic analysis with satellite tagging of an open ocean fish. It is hoped that through this study, detailed life history data will be gathered on the Mola to enable the proper conservation of this mysterious open ocean giant.