Finally, my favorite fish is getting some recognition. A great photo of a Mola mola, or ocean sunfish, which was sitting in a photographer’s hard drive for a couple of years, went kind of viral when he finally posted it to his Facebook page, according to GrindTV.com. The Monterey Bay Aquarium is quoted in the article as saying that Mola molas, “look like the invention of a mad scientist,” but it’s the fact that they weren’t invented at all that makes them such as fabulous evolutionary talking point.

When I’m talking to non-scientific audiences about the power of natural adaptable systems, one of the first slides I put up is this sketch I did of a Mola:

And then I say, “if I asked any of you to plan a fish for me, I’m guessing none of you would produce something that looked like this.” And I get a good laugh, because, well, Molas are funny looking. I go on to explain that despite its scant resemblance to anything we normally think of as fish-like, the Mola has been incredibly successful on Earth for a really long time. Evolutionary successes aren’t planned, they emerge from successive iterations of solving challenges in the environment. And this is the lesson the homely Mola has for all of us. Stop wasting so much time with your planning exercises and your predictive models—they’re not all that valuable in an unpredictable world. Focus instead, as the Mola has done for millions of years–finning its ugly self through the nekton—on solving the problems at hand.

Published On: August 2, 2012

Rafe Sagarin

Rafe Sagarin

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist at the Institute of the Environment at University of Arizona. Rafe’s research includes everything from the historical and current sizes of intertidal gastropods (snails) to developing better ideas for national security, based on natural security systems. He is particularly interested in the Sea of Cortez, or Gulf of California, its ecological history, and the fascinating people past and present who have lived, worked, researched and journeyed there.

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