Just another WordPress weblog
diving bali pygmee seahorse manta ray striped catfish tresher shark ornate ghostpipefish

The Mola Mola quest




The underworld. Deep, infinite, impregnable blue. Silent blue. Mysterious blue. Great? 

What superlatives to use. This underworld, this blue world descending to a darkness of silence. Secrets. Sometimes willing. Mostly giving reluctantly. This underworld reveals her secrets, only if she wants to.  Where else can a human being learn more about humility? We don’t learn easy, as we are spoiled. She doesn’t let anybody seduce her. She gives and takes what she wants, when she wants. She is the sea, she is the underworld, she obeys her own laws. She’s female, a moody queen. She rules alone. Her citizens who dwell in the deepest part of her blue body are the most mystifying of creatures. They really originate in the underworld. Humans are vain and always ‘want’, ‘have’. So are we. A cocky mistake.


There is one of those creatures. She is called mola mola. Sunfish. Illustrious and mysterious is she and seldom seen by human eyes. Prehistoric. 

There is an island. Nusa Penida, small in the blue queendom though notorious.

At this little island in Bali divers congregate a certain time of the year. The season when the mola mola shows her self to humans. If she wants to. We are there also and we’re not taking any risk, we’re going to take our time.


This trip we have a mission. It is mola mola season and Nusa Penida – with her smaller sister island Lembongan – is a special place. Every year the island acts as a beauty parlor for the mola mola that usually dwells in the depth of the ocean. A few months per year they visit these shores and let them rid of all kinds off parasites helped by the beauticians on duty. A whole range of reef fish feast off all the unwanted freeloaders on the body of the immense sunfish. The perfect opportunity for us ambitious divers to see this curious creature in all its glory. Whit a bit of luck. Always luck, no guarantees. This is the underworld. Or do we dare to have the certainty? It is the mola mola high season in Bali after all. Every body we have met and has been here saw this strangest of fish on several occasions. We are optimistic. We did plan a full ten days here. Nothing can go wrong. Is it stupid to believe this? Certainty. Uncertainty. The underworld dictates. Luck. We’re stupid and sure. 


We dived the first day but no mola mola. We’re not greedy. The dives were beautiful, the live abundant and the strong currents made it challenging in a fun way. There were a few white tips and that’s always nice. Nice. We are hopeful. Is our hope immodest? 


We go diving the second day. Beautiful. 


We go diving the third day. We see sharks hunt in the currents, clouds of fish, awesome coral life. Satisfying. Or not. We don’t see mola mola but no worry; we have time, enough time for luck. 


Day four. The diving is exiting and fun. Good drift diving with the good current past a healthy reef full of life should not disappoint. But we are left out on something. The “fish that shall not be named” doesn’t let her self to be seen. We are starting to get a little worried and our great dive guide and the sweet people in the dive shop starting to share our emotions.


The mola mola is becoming a ghost and we are becoming hunters.

The fifth diving day and the gods on this island seem not to like us allot.

The feeling is mutual. This is getting personal. Everybody is getting worried now and we frustrated. This thing is taking on mythical proportions. This day turns out to be a bad dive experience also. Not only our luck is tested. The strobe on my camera floods at thirty meters deep, the nightmare of all underwater photographers. Happily it was not the camera, but the feeling to powerless watch this happen, in the hunt on one idiot fish, well… 


Day number six. Things have to be on our side now. They have to consider us now. Today we do want a little bit of luck. We are humble and we have paid. 

No, we don’t get to see the ‘fish that shall not be named’. Though the gods seem to feel sorry for us and they have prepared a special surprise for us. Compensation. During the dive there is again a nervous hunt for mola mola who doesn’t show herself to us. We are nearly finishing the dive when somebody calls for attention and something appears in the dark blue gloom. An image never to forget and one that not many divers are given. We see the head of a shark. Surprise. Confusion, bolt from the blue, be cause this is different, oceanic. The complete beast materializes in the light that the thirty meter of water is permitting us. More astonishment followed by unique excitement. 


No words. Experience and bewilderment. Imagine a tail on the beast, at least as long as the 2 meters long animal’s body. The tail of one of the most illustrious sharks a diver can encounter in the underworld. It is a big treshershark. A very special treat indeed. Compensation. Euphoria. For a wile we forget the mola mola. 


Dive day number seven arrives and we don’t dare to hope for anything no more. The experience from yesterday is still fresh in our minds. Although, the fact remains, we are here for that bloody thing. Apparently we are shark people be cause today we find a wobbegong, a strange looking shark, sleeping. But no mola mola and an expanding form of panic is taking hold of us. We have two days to go. Impossible. Certainty ruined. The people here, man they are so sweet. They feel for us so hard. Dive guides as well the hotel staff. 


Day eight. Fear now. The boys at the hotel suggest to do what they would do. This is the Island of the gods and the gods needs to be pleased. So the boys prepares for us a few offerings that we should offer to the sea and to the gods above. Also it seems that one of the dive guides has made an extra prayer to the gods for our good luck. Indeed we do the offering of flowers and some rice to the sea. I have my camera. No flashlight. Resignation. We go down and hunt. Again, now with prayers.


We go down. Blue. Silence and a hunt. Heavy blue water. Our underworld….


Mola Mola!


Masks fill with that other salty water. Mola Mola. Hysteria. Intense, very intense. Image imprinted for ever (not on photo, that doesn’t go now, now is emotion). Mola Mola. A silhouette first. Then Luck. Also gratitude. Divers hugging dive guides, singing, the lot. The magnificence beast disappears after eying us for a wile probably wondering what al the fuss is about. Relief, at last. The quest fulfilled. 


The last day on the island. We had luck in the end. Yes, eventually. Satisfaction. Still we can’t hold our selves back to go down one last time. The dive passes and we enjoy ourselves. The long anxious nine days, the end. Our luck turned now. Completely on our side, unsuspected. Patience, a good virtue? Absolutely. Now anyway. Just before we have to leave the water, in five meters of crystal-clear sea, oh yeas, comes she with a last inquisitive goodbye. Luck? Surely! Quest. The underworld is a moody one but I love her dearly. I have the pictures now. Mola mola, your one of a kind.


Michel De Ruyck




Oceanic Sunfish;

Mola Mola


Named the oceanic sunfish divers tend to call it by its latin name mola mola.

The strange mola mola is an occasional pelagic visitor to Bali’s reefs. This wanderer in both temperate and tropical waters, is a true open-water fish, witch feeds on the larger plankton, such as jellyfish, comb jellys and salps. It is calm, and usually easy approached. Although most molas seen in Bali have a body size of about a meter or so in diameter, specimens of more than three meters – and 1300 kilograms – have been recorded.

August to October are the best months to see them along the coasts of Nusa Penida and Lembongan. If you’re lucky!

Leave a Reply

Powered by Bali Web Design Studio