An enormous, disk-shaped fish known as the ocean sunfish (Mola Mola), or common mola, surprised two paddle boarders earlier this month in Laguna Beach, California, per CBS Los Angeles.
As the gentle giant floated in between the paddlers, they could barely contain their excitement and took videos of the experience. In the footage, the fish is seen bobbing towards the surface with its dorsal fin periodically slicing through the water. Ocean sunfish are known to bask in the sun near the surface and can sometimes be mistaken for a shark, per National Geographic.
"OK, that might be the biggest sunfish I've ever seen," Rich German, an ocean enthusiast and environmental activist, tells his friend Matt Wheaton, in the footage of the encounter. "It's as big as your board."
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, ocean sunfish can reach up to 10 feet in length and weigh nearly 5,000 pounds, making them the heaviest vertebrate fish globally. They're found residing in the open waters of tropical and temperate oceans across the world, reports Newsweek's Hannah Osbourne. The fish obtain their unique shape because their back fin stops growing after birth and instead folds into itself, creating a stumpy rudder called a clavus, per National Geographic.
In the video, Wheaton, a veterinarian, and his board appear tiny compared to the colossal bony fish. While the sunfish's dimensions are unknown, the sunfish may have been anywhere between nine to ten feet long compared to Wheaton's 14 foot-long board, reports Laura Geggel for Live Science.
German and Wheaton shared various photos and videos of the experience to social media sites like Instagram and Facebook. The encounter with the enormous gentle giant is rare, as these animals are not usually seen near the coastline. However, the stretch of water in Laguna Beach where the two paddlers were located is protected, and no fishing is allowed, per NBC News' Antonio Planas. Currently, the common mola is listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List due to overfishing and bycatch, Live Science reports.
"I just thought it was kind of neat this fish is hanging out in an area where it's totally protected and safe," German tells NBC News. "We hung out with it for probably 30 minutes. Eventually, it just dropped down below the surface."
German is the founder of Project O, a non-profit that dedicates its time to the ocean's protection, restoration, and sustainability practices. He is also the host of a podcast called, Our Epic Ocean, Live Science reports.
"The fact it was so big makes it super unique," German tells NBC News. "My hope for all of this exposure is more people will fall in love with the ocean, and that will do more to protect the ocean."