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Something of a Fish Story

The Big One That Didn't Get Away. Romancing Bali's Giant Mola-Mola Fish.


Mola MolaIn 1985, a young Australian surfer was startled while surfing at Nusa Lembongan island when he occasionally saw a massive fin break the water's surface. Concerned that he was being "eyed" by a tiger shark, the young surfer, Michael Cortenbach, was relieved to discover that his swimming companion at Bali's neighboring island was the very rare Oceanic Sunfish or Mola Mola - the world's heaviest bony fish.

A gigantic fish by any standard, the Mola Mola can grow to 3 meters in diameter and weigh as much as 363 kilograms.

Six years later in 1991 and actively employed establishing Bali Hai Diving Adventures, Michael and the enormous Mola Mola were reunited again at Nusa Lembongan while diving at a depth of 30 meters. Considered rare and seldom seen by divers, Bali Hai Diving Adventures have closely monitored the annual visits of the Mola Mola - becoming along the way something of a world center for the observation and study of these gigantic sea creatures. Over the past ten years the Company has played a key role in disseminating information about the Mola Mola to the world by hosting photographers, journalists, dive travel professionals, collecting data, communicating with scientists and supporting an award winning video made by Mr. Chris Paporakis.

Over the past 6 weeks – during this year's annual visit of the Mola Mola - world-wide interest has peaked with Bali Hai Diving Adventures and Bali Hai Cruises playing host to a long list of Mola Mola aficionados:

• They hosted visits to the island by two major marine conservation groups and potential donors for the development of a Marine Protected Area at the island. The goal: the establishment of a three-island conservation area that will preserve Bali's tremendous coral reef assets by showing people the unique natural qualities of the area.

• A visit by the BBC and famed underwater-cinematographer Peter Scoones. Fresh off projects with Blue Planet and Planet Earth, Peter and his team of underwater cinematographers dived to 30 meters day after day to capture the often shy Mola Mola on film.

• A visit by Miss Tierney Thys, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer grant recipient. Tierney, a rising star in the world of marine biology and an acknowledged expert on the Mola Mola, came to Bali to deploy satellite tags on the fish in order to obtain a better understanding of annual migration patterns. Accompanied by two Indonesian scientists, the team's work was documented on film by underwater journalist, Tim Rock.

• The filming of an episode of a new television series "The Equator" documenting close encounters between divers and the Mola Mola. Growing accustomed to having their photo taken, these normally reticent huge fish suddenly decided to appear en masse, permitting an unprecedented single-frame shot of 5 Mola Mola. Playful and full of never-before documented antics for the camera team, the fish did numerous flying leaps that broke the ocean's surface and an unheard of cleaning behavior where 6 different species of fish worked in unison to remove parasites from a single Mola Mola.

Thirteen years after his initial encounter with the Mola Mola, Michael Cortenbach has developed a deep attachments and understanding for the massive Oceanic Sunfish. To acknowlede his pioneering role in local efforts to preserve the species, Michael was recently given the honor of attaching the second satellite tag to a Mola Mola.

Based on Michael's recent experience while diving at Nusa Lembongan one might conclude that the Mola Mola hold a special regard for their friends and admirers. While swimming in crystal clear water Michael discovered that he was surrounded by a large school of the giant fish, seemingly eager to share some quality time with a man leading a community-based movement to preserve their ocean environment.

More information: Join a Bali Hai Reef Cruise

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