Many experienced divers have logged over a hundred dives, and yet most of them have never seen a mola mola. The largest bony fish in the world, the ocean sunfish is one of our favorite animals to encounter due to their large size and goofy behavior and demeanor.
When the waters are warmer, they are brought in just offshore San Diego by an increase in their main food source - jellies and salps. We often find them hanging beneath kelp paddies with the smaller molas tending to form larger schools than their larger counterparts. They are curious creatures and will often approach divers for a closer inspection, and they can swim surprisingly fast with their large, seemingly misplaced fins!
There is also an option of renting a spotter plane (for an additional $500, able to split across multiple people) to spot molas in the air to increase encounters.
If you’re ready to do something different, come out with the SD Expeditions team and see how truly special the mola is, that we named our boat after these unique creatures.
SD Expeditions uses all means necessary to provide you with a successful encounter. We are constantly monitoring weather conditions and keeping in touch with boat captains and experts to remain informed about current ocean diving conditions.
So join SD Expeditions for a unique and different encounter.
How big are these molas?
The ocean sunfish is the heaviest bony fish in the world, and adults have an average weight of 2,200 pounds! We have encountered many smaller molas that tend to school with other younger molas, where as the largest molas we find are drifting in the ocean on their own.
The average length of a mature mola fin-to-fin is 8.2 feet - imagine swimming with a fish that large!
What's with their fins?
Through the beauty of evolution, the tail was replaced by a lumpy pseudotail and the small pectoral fins were hardly enough to propel the mola’s large body around. Therefore the long dorsal and anal fins move side to side to propel the animal forward. Their thin dorsal often pokes out of the water and can look like a sharks because they often swim at the surface.
Are they edible?
The ocean sunfish is considered a delicacy in some Asian countries, particularly Taiwan and Japan. They are often victims of bycatch in drift gillnets, and in the California swordfish fishery, they make up 30% of the total catch.
On several occasions we have witnessed sea lions eating a small mola. They will often eat the inside flesh since the skin is thick and can be covered in parasites.
Please check our calendar here for upcoming trips.
- Meet at Mission Bay at 7:45 am.
- Board the boat at 8 am.
- Listen to the captain’s Coast Guard safety briefing.
- On our way out to the ocean, we will discuss appropriate mola diving techniques.
- We will be motoring all day, continuously looking for white blobs on the surface and checking beneath kelp paddies.
- We will stick around and be happy to answer any and all questions you have!
The boat we will be using is a 25 foot center console, six-pac local dive boat meant for the open ocean. It is fully Coast Guard registered and certified vessel equipped with all standard safety equipment. Rated to hold 6 passengers, we carry 4-6 guests.
Food and beverages are provided to keep you energized over the duration of the trip - if you have any special requests, feel free to let us know.
At SD Expeditions we use all means necessary to provide you with the safest interaction possible. We are diligent about checking the latest weather reports and updates to remain well informed. However, we are out in the open ocean, and if weather conditions do not cooperate, we may need to head back early.
We only offer this excursion at peak times of the year for mola encounters. Althoughunlikely, there is a chance you may not see a mola - we’re not in a theme park with domesticated animals, nor would we want to be. The excitement of not knowing exactly what you will see or encounter in the open ocean is what makes this excursion so amazing.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I need to be certified?
Since this trip is a snorkeling/freedive trip only, you do not need to be scuba certified to go on this trip. We do require all divers to have intermediate ocean snorkeling experience, and if you would like to gain more snorkel experience with us, we do offer guided snorkel tours in La Jolla to help you feel more comfortable in the water.
Are molas dangerous?
Although they are large, molas are very calm, curious, and sometimes skittish. They are more of a threat to boaters than divers since they can be run over while basking in the sun and could seriously damage the boat, depending on their size.
How close will I get to the molas?
Blue and Mako sharks are wild animals, and we are in their ocean. They will come as close as they feel comfortable, and the calmer you are the less likely they will be frightened away. It is tempting to dive down on them, but this often scare them away. The best way to draw them in is to sit underwater very quietly and wait for them to come to you.
What do I do with my belongings?
You can keep anything you need for the trip on the boat, and we recommend you lock anything you don’t need in your car.
When is the next trip?
You can view our calendar here for upcoming trip dates. We are constantly updating and adding more trips, so feel free to request a date. If none of these dates work for you, another option is to privately charter the boat for a day of your choosing. You can bring up to 4 total divers and have your own private mola trip. For more information on private charters, please contact us.
How long is the expedition?
We will board around 8am in the morning, and hope to return by 3pm. If the diving is great, we may come back later!
What do I need to bring?
- 7mm wetsuit
- Mask, snorkel, fins, gloves and booties
- Weight belt, if desired
- A warm set of clothes
- Towel, sunscreen, sunglasses or a hat
- Seasickness medicine - we strongly recommend taking seasickness medicine as a precautionary measure. Take some the night before to get it in your system, and then take a full dose well before boarding the boat. We sometimes have divers who think they don’t get sick have to sit out because they are too sick. There is nothing worse than having to get out of the water when there are lots of molas aroundbecause you don’t feel good.
If you are in need of any gear, let us know.
Do I need a camera?
Sure! If you have an underwater camera (or you’re a photographer), by all means bring it. And if you don’t have an underwater camera, we also rent waterproof cameras for the trip, and you can keep the memory card with all of the photos and videos you captured.
Do you offer any mola photo packages?
Kyle McBurnie, our resident underwater photographer/videographer offers molaphoto packages. He has been published in multiple magazines such as National Geographic and does all of our media. He will focus on getting shots of you in the water with the sunfish so you can focus on diving hands-free with the molas. After the trip, you will receive the high resolution photos from trip to share with your friends and family.
What is your cancellation policy?
We require full payment at the time of booking to reserve your spot. You may cancel up to 2 weeks before the trip date for a full refund. If we need to cancel the trip due to unfavorable ocean conditions, you will receive a full refund.
What does the trip cost include?
The trip is all-inclusive, so it includes gear rental, snacks, water, and lunch. The only thing the cost does not include is alcohol (feel free to bring some if you wish) and gratuity for the captain.
July - September
Offshore San Diego, CA (depart from Mission Bay)
Number of Guests:
8am - 4pm
$349 per person
To inquire about dates not on our calendar or your own private trip, please contact us.