So glad you visited the site. I hope you enjoy it. Mike Johnson, photographer extraordinaire, and I started this site way back in 2000 and it’s been a tremendously enjoyable endeavor–gathering up all these bits and pieces on the magnificent Molidae over these past years. This site is a complete labor of love so any donations to the Adopt a Sunfish Foundation are greatly appreciated. Any corrections or additions you’d like to add to strengthen the site, please do not hesitate to contact And if you do use this site for your own purposes, please don’t forget a proper citation.

I get quite a lot of questions that start with why Mola?! Well, I first became enchanted with the mola after seeing a tiny picture of one on my graduate school advisor’s wall. To me it just seemed such an unlikely design for any self-respecting open ocean fish. It completely piqued my curiosity and has held me spellbound ever since.

I was born in northern California and my parents were very supportive of my desire to be in the water. They even made me a little wet suit so I could play in the ocean longer without getting too chilled. During grade school, I moved to Vermont, learned to SCUBA dive in a lake at the age of 15, and in 1988 graduated from Brown University in Rhode Island with a degree in biology. I came back to California after college, learned to fly and got a job working with Sylvia Earle and Graham Hawkes building a winged submarine at Deep Ocean Engineering before attending graduate school at Duke University in North Carolina. I combined my interests in biology and engineering there and got a doctorate in zoology in 1998 investigating the mechanics of swimming muscles in fish.

Since 2000, our mola team has been traveling the world ocean studying the giant ocean sunfish (mola). Though these fish can grow more than ten feet (three meters) long and weigh over 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms), little is known about them. By placing satellite tags on them and collecting tissue samples for genetic and toxin analysis, we’re hoping to uncover the molas’ secrets: How did they come to occupy all tropical and temperate seas? Where, when, and at what size do they reproduce? How do they locate their jellyfish prey? What else are they eating? Are there more ocean sunfish species yet to be discovered? Are their populations endangered? How can they help us understand the changing ocean? To see one of my mola talks delivered at the TED conference, click here.

For 10 years I worked at Sea Studios Foundation SSF, a non-profit foundation based in Monterey, California dedicated to inspiring public understanding of science, technology and the environment through entertaining, innovative media and outreach. While at SSF I was Director of Research for National Geographic’s Strange Days on Planet Earth project and Senior Science Editor for The Shape of Life project .
I also write, narrate and/or produce shorter films—several with Kip Evans including Wave of Change: California’s Marine Protected Areas, California Hopespots and Cordell Bank: Blue Water Oasis. Currently I am producing an online series for TEDed entitled Stories from the Sea and am working with Parafilms and Anna Fitch. Episodes include Secret Life of Plankton , How Life Begins in the Deep Sea and How Life Came to Land . Each episode comes with a lesson plan and additional resources.

I love working with many different groups to advance marine conservation and awareness. Recent collaborations include serving as lead science advisor and narrator for Okeanos a multi-sensory performance by the San Francisco dance troupe, Capacitor and a NG Digital collaboration to create an NSF funded app for 3-6 year old called Jacques Marine Missions to inspire early learners to help clean up the ocean. I believe strongly in smart gaming as a powerful tool for education and am the daily underwater explorer in National Geographic’s Animal Jam —an online game for kids 6-9. Animal Jam currently boasts 11 million players. I also serve as judge for the National Science Foundation’s Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge and am a member of the TED Braintrust (

Here are a few additional links to my work or presentations:
TED: Defining nature – science and art for conservation

Igniting Interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

Tierney Thys – National Geographic Planet Ocean

Strange Sunfish and Hope for the Ocean

Biotherm – Dr Thys, marine biologist & national geographic explorer

TED: Tierney Thys – For the Fish!

All my work is dedicated to raising awareness of the ocean—not only of the spectacular life within the deep blue, but also of the pivotal role the ocean plays in Earth’s climate and the livelihood of all humanity.

Please do let me know what you think of the site and thanks again for visiting.