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Mola research

tagged mola at the surfaceCurrent Research

Inga Potter's research at the Large Pelagics Research Lab is the first to examine the distribution, movement, and behavior of Mola mola in the north Atlantic Ocean. The primary goals of the study are:

  1. to determine the spatial and temporal distribution of Mola mola off the northeast coast of the United States
  2. to study movement and migratory patterns
  3. to quantify temperature and depth preferences of M. mola

To achieve these objectives, the project includes:

  1. analysis of aerial survey data of Mola mola in northeast shelf waters and
  2. tagging of M. mola with pop-up satellite archival tags (PSAT's) in order to track their vertical and horizontal movements over time.

Pop-up satellite archival tags record depth, temperature, and light level data. Tags are programmed to release from each fish at a pre-determined time, then float to the surface and transmit data via the Argos satellite system . Results of the project will establish a baseline of information for the species in the region, and will improve the understanding of the habitat, migration routes, behavior and environmental associations of M. mola. Inga hopes that the results of her study will contribute to the development of predictive models and strategies to aid in the management of this poorly understood marine species whose populations may be declining due to bycatch and its increasing commercial use in Asia. In addition, data on distribution of M. mola may serve as a useful indicator of nutrient rich areas with high productivity, where other important marine organisms may be found.

PSAT tagging a molaTo date, 19 fish have been tagged with PSAT's during the summer and fall of 2005 and 2006. Tags were deployed from fishing vessels out of Nantucket Island, MA , Harwichport, MA , and York, ME (see map to the right).

Preliminary analysis from the PSAT's that have popped off and successfully transmitted data reveal that ocean sunfish are capable of making large scale movements (as far as 3000 km in 130 days) and diving to depths up to 600 m. As the PSAT's continue to pop-off and relay data, more information about the movement and behavior of M. mola in the northwest Atlantic will become available, leading to a better understanding of the biology of this unique and mysterious creature.

Inga would like to thank all of the people who have helped her in this project, including the Large Pelagics Research Lab at UNH (Dr. Molly Lutcavage, Walter Golet, Ben Galuardi, Francois Royer, Laughlin Siceloff); Dr. Tierney Thys, Sea Studios Foundation; Dr. Greg Skomal, NMFS; Lukas Kubicek, Mola tagging; Dave Linney, F/V “Peregrine”, York, ME; Eric Hesse, F/V “Tenacious” Harwichport, MA; Josh Eldridge, F/V “Monomoy”, Nantucket, MA. Research for the 2005 season was supported in part by NH Sea Grant Development Funds, 2006 Research supported by grant from the Large Pelagics Research Center., University of New Hampshire.

Click here to see some preliminary results of Inga's work!!!