Tropical Fish

The Raccoon butterflyfish is one of the most recognized butterfly fishes in Hawaiian waters. The Hawaiian name, kīkākapu, is shared with several species of butterflyfishes.  This butterflyfish is quick to catch the eye with its high contrast “bandit” type color patterning. It has a rich golden to warm brown background accented with bold black bars. The black eye bar, backed by a strong white band, creates its mask. Other descriptive common names they are known by include the Halfmoon butterflyfish, Moon butterflyfish, Crescent-masked Butterflyfish, Lunula Butterflyfish, Bandit Butterflyfish, Redstriped Butterflyfish, and Spotted Butterflyfish.

Named for its predominantly green and red color pattern, this is one of the largest and most heavily-bodied of Hawaiian wrasses. The wrasses are among the most common and diverse of reef fishes in Hawaiian waters. There are 43 different wrasse species reported and 13 of them are endemic, found only in Hawaii.  Although they are a varied group, they all share an elongated body tapered at head and tail

Five of the world’s 7 species of sea turtles make their home in Hawaii’s waters, including the green sea turtle (honu), hawksbill (honu‘ea), leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley. The green sea turtle is by far the most commonly encountered sea turtle on Hawaiian reefs.  They are regularly found resting under underwater ledges, basking on beaches, and nibbling on algae in shallow waters.

The Hawaiian monk seal occasionally rests on the ledges at the sides of Hanauma Bay. The Hawaiian name for the monk seal is ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua, which means “dog running in the rough water.” If you are lucky enough to see one, give them their space and report it to a life guard immediately. These are a critically endangered species and should not be approached within 100 feet.

To many ocean lovers, the Moorish idol is a quintessential reef fish. This distinctive species is widely distributed in the Indo-Pacific and tropical eastern Pacific. Snorkelers and divers see it often on the reef, as it swims alone or in groups of four to six.  Shore-based reef watchers see it also – its striking colors showing through the surface as the fish forages in rocky shallows and even boat harbors.

Parrotfish are strange creatures!  Called uhu in Hawai‘i, these spectacularly painted reef dwellers have blunt heads and fused teeth that give them cartoonish smiles. They’re noisy eaters; you can hear them munching on coral underwater. After a snack, they expel a stream of sand — as much as a ton a year per fish! In fact, most of Hawai‘i’s white sandy beaches are actually parrotfish poop!

The Thornback cowfish also known as Makukana, in Hawaiian is an unusual looking fish. They are approximately 6 inches long and are members of the trunkfish family. Cowfish paddle slowly around rocky and sandy bottoms, giving snorkelers good viewing opportunities.  The common name of these tan fish with the blue spots probably came from the horns on their heads.

The bluefin trevally,(also known as the blue ulua, bluefin kingfish, bluefinned crevalle, omilu and spotted trevally), is a species of large, widely distributed marine fish classified in the jack family. It gets its common name from the electric blue coloration to its dorsal, anal and caudal fins. Speckles of blue-black spots cover its back.  The Blue Trevally reproduce during summer months in Hawaii and usually at night when male and female individuals gather to cast their spawn into the open water to be carried away in the currents.

There are over 80 species of surgeonfish worldwide and 25 of these varieties live in Hawaiian waters. The largest surgeon fish in the region are the Yellowfin Surgeonfish.  Although they come in many different color variations, they all share the same basic structure. The name “surgeonfish” comes from their hard spines at the base of their tail.

The Humuhumunukunukuapua`a is also called the rectangular triggerfish, or Hawaiian triggerfish.  It was designated the official state fish of Hawaii on a five year trial basis in 1985. When the trial quietly lapsed in 1990, no action was taken to either reinstate it or designate a new species. It wasn’t until 2006 that notice was taken that Hawaii was without a state fish, and the Humuhumunukunukuapua`a was reinstated as the official state fish on a permanent basis.

The Sailfin Tang is decorated with broad, pale yellow bands that alternate with darker bands over its body. The bending extends into both dorsal and anal fins. On the darker bands are yellow dots and stripes. The caudal fin is yellow. The head of the fish is white adorned with yellow dots. A dark band with yellow dots runs across the eye and another dark band with dots is located right behind the eye.

This dark-colored surgeonfish is easily recognized by the brilliant orange patch at the base of its tail.  A member of the surgeonfish family, Family Acanthuridae, the Achilles tang (Acanthurus achilles) exhibits all of the features characteristic of the group. Roughly oval in outline, it is highly compressed from side to side (laterally), has a small mouth and eyes set high on the head.

The longnose butterflyfish, Forcipiger longirostris, or lau-wiliwili-nukunuku‘oi‘oi in Hawaiian, is named in three languages for its distinctive elongated jaw. The descriptive Hawaiian name also relates the similarities between the color and movements of the fish and the yellow dropping leaves of the wiliwili tree; as the name translates “the leaf of the wiliwili tree with a sharp snout.”

The Arc Eye Hawkfish, also known as Arc-Eyed Hawkfish, has an orange colored body with a white horizontal bar on the back half. The operculum and eyes have the most distinctive markings, with an alternating blue and bright orange pattern. The body may be greenish-brown, dark brown or reddish-orange, while the tail usually is bluish. A broad, longitudinal white band runs along the distal half of the body. A characteristic ring-shaped or U-shaped tricolor marking (red, blue and yellow) occurs around and behind the eyes.

The bright red young of this species is sometimes called the tomato or clown wrasse.  Its distinctive coloration, with white spots rimmed in black, may identify its immature condition and protect it from the territorial and sometimes aggressive adult males. The juvenile may reach 3 to 4 inches (10 cm) before it matures as a female and develops new color pattern: orange with blue spots and lines and the bright yellow tail for which the species is named.  Later in life, it will change color again if it undergoes a sex change from female to male. Males have a green bar on the side of the body, a dark band on the upper and lower fins, and more numerous blue spots.