My Travel Book - Our Fleeting Encounter with a "Mola mola" in Northern Brittany

Sometimes a very important moment begins quite simply... Let’s go back to the day we caught sight of a “Mola mola” for the first time in our life and probably the last one, especially in Northern Brittany.

It all started with a spectacular fall. Swee’Pea had been trying to wakesurf... except that he was still linked to the boat and this proved to be his demise. (It’s just a figure of speech.)

It is quite hard to surf the wake with a big and antediluvian board even if you are a very talented wakeboarder. And a good wave surfer!

So his fall was brutal, I’ll say!

The boys decided it was time to call for some much needed rest. It was definitely snack time!

I was still looking at the water with my camera on my lap. Just looking. Quite aimlessly... until the very second I spotted a fin... A fin! You mean like a shark fin? Well, yes, it definitely looked very “sharky” to me.

Because we have sharks in Brittany. Well, basking sharks. Very nice and totally harmless since they feed on zooplankton and very small fish. This summer, hundreds of them have been spotted in Brittany. Warmer waters, they said.

So I was pretty sure I was right. “Fin” meant “ basking shark” of course!

So when I yelled: “Shark to port”, T., our youngest boy aboard threw his surfboard overboard and...

...right to where I had sighted the fin!

Except that by then, the fin was more on the starboard side. Which was quite great since T.’s mother was on board and she was getting very upset even if basking sharks are known to be very, very nice... Huge sometimes but nice!

I remember the day we spotted one right below the house and it was swimming leisurely very close to Swee’Pea and his friends who were fooling by a rock... Impressive, very impressive! But totally harmless.

Then a very strange head appeared before our very astonished gaze... Very bizarre indeed.

Do you remember the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? At one point he is sentenced to be beheaded by the Queen of Hearts and then its head appears without his body. How can you behead a cat that does not have a body?

Well what we had there barely floating up to the surface was one fish head and only one head... looking quite jagged where the body should have been.

Obviously its fin was matched by another one right below. One head and no body. With two fins...

The head was huge with protruding eyes. It really was a very ugly head. But how can you start thinking about ugliness when there is no body fastened to the head.

And yet the head looked alive, sort of. It kept rolling about from one side to the other one. Slowly and unhurriedly...

Popeye who was the only one who kept a cool head on board... “Cool head”? Did I really write that? Well, Popeye who stayed calm said: “Lots of fishermen out there in their boats. One of them probably caught the fish and cut its head on the spot.”

By then we were feeling very sick. One beheaded huge fish... and one bulky homely head floating away... Looking still alive... Not very lively and quite weakly but still moving around... But the head was definitely dying under our very dismayed eyes... Sort of slowing down and sinking slowly but surely.

A dying head? Well, we all know about last reflexes in agony. But do they apply to a fish head?

And what kind of fish would that be? A big, huge fish with a “sharky” fin and a very ugly and impressive snout? One huge head?

Anyway, the head kept rolling around, floating away until it sank down in the depths below the boat... slowly, unhurriedly but for good.

Our boys did not feel like wakesurfing again. Nor were they hungry either. We were feeling rather glummy and we decided to put back to port.
When we got home, I rushed to transfer the pictures of the day onto my computer. I had managed to take a few pictures of the head... my conditioned reflex to whatever happens in my life... especially at sea!

I looked at them very carefully with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say. Dispassionately.

And then it struck me... (Oh, I would have been such a brilliant forensic scientist!)

There had been no blood oozing from the head even though the kill and the beheading had probably happened only a few minutes before we saw it bobbing along.

There had been no seagulls either trying to get their share the way they do whenever fishermen gut their catch at sea...

 When in doubt... let’s rush to Google: “Big fish with round head in Brittany.”

There it was: “Mola mola.” Thank you... Google!

Then Wikipedia... There it was!

I double-checked my pictures. Yes, this really was an Ocean Sunfish which in French turns out to be a “poisson lune" (Moonfish).

I called my men to let them know the good news... The "head" was alive! And the head was a whole fish after all! Ugly and very slow and very strange but alive and whole!

It would have been very nice if they had concurred with me right away. But of course, they had to double-check just in case! And Popeye came up with pictures that really looked like mine. Brilliant, just brilliant!

And then there was this article where some zoologist explained that sometimes it is hard to differentiate an Ocean Sunfish from a shark (at first sight, that is) because of the fin. The point of his story was that you have to double-check very carefully whenever you see a fin! No kidding!

“You are right,” said Popeye. “We really saw a ‘Mola mola’!” (Lovely name, isn’t it?) And he sounded quite hoity-toity, by the way!

“I knew there was something wrong,” he added. “There was no blood flowing from the alleged cut.”

Sometimes this man makes me so mad.
Anyway we did spot a very rare fish in our seas. In France, they are merely found in the Atlantic Ocean. 
But this year, we have experienced very warm and strong currents in Brittany. They have brought a lot of basking sharks and thousands of jellyfish to our shores this summer.

The Ocean Sunfish feeds on jellyfish. This one probably drifted along a warm current and ended up in the baie de la Fresnaye. A very rare sighting indeed since they are used to swim in very deep waters.

This Sunfish was probably surfacing after a deep dive and was actually basking in the sun on its side. Which explained the leisurely rolling around.

Once it felt warm enough, it sank to colder currents and out of sight.

I have to add that this year and to the best of my knowledge, nobody ever spotted dolphins in our area, not even seasoned sailors. No magical encounters for us even though we have been sailing a lot around Chausey which is one of the best spot to watch dolphins in our area...

So this year, lots of basking sharks and jellyfish and Sunfish (because if we saw one there must have been quite a few of them around).

Sunfish have also been spotted close to the southwestern coast of Great-Britain meaning that the waters are getting warmer.

This is not really good. Global warming at work probably. Actually quite scary.

*Good Luck, and Good Night*

1 comment:

Myrna said...

Very interesting! I had not heard of Mola mola before. My turn to look it up!