By Susan Baker
Aside from the Dolphins and turtles that you will frequently see on Molokini tours, you will be able to see a few special marine types in their vibrant ecosystems while snorkeling in Maui. Most of these specific fish species you’ll be able to see frequently but others you will only see on the rare occasion. You will also find them along Hermes Reef, Pearl Island, Kure Atoll, and Midway Atoll.
Up to 30% of the reef fish found in Hawaiian waters are endemic because of the isolation and climate of the islands. Hawaii has a typical tropical climate; however, the humidity is less severe than in other tropical areas due to the trade winds blowing from the East.
Raccoon Butterfly Fish
The Raccoon Butterfly Fish can be found in Southeast Atlantic and Indo-Pacific areas and is the most nocturnal fish. The Raccoon Butterfly Fish can usually be found in small schools and can be identified by its orange-yellowish color with its upper part being much darker than the bottom part and black eye area.
The Raccoon Butterfly Fish’s name was given to him due to the dark areas around its eyes that look like Raccoon’s eyes. This reef fish can grow up to a whopping 7.9 inches and eats nudibranchs, tubeworm tentacles, and other benthic invertebrates.
This bright yellow fish is one of the most recognized fish of the Hawaiian reef fishes. The Yellow Tang is part of the surgeonfish family Acanthuridae. The Yellow Tang has a rough oval shape and looks very compressed from the sides, with high-set eyes, a scalpel-like spine, and a small mouth.
The Yellow Tang is one of the smallest surgeon fishes with a thinner, longer snout than the rest of his family members. This little fish changes its behavior and appearance at night, like many other reef fish. Its yellow color changes to dark gray-yellow color with a thick white band along the sides of the fish.
Trumpetfish is an elongated fish with an upturned mouth. These fish usually swim vertically and can blend with vertical coral such as sea pens, pipe sponges, and sea rods. The Trumpetfish can be found in tropical waters such as Florida, Brazil, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean Sea.
Trumpetfish can usually be found up to depths of 30 meters and can grow to a length of 80cm. They often look like floating sticks, swaying with waves, and camouflage themselves by swimming in alignment with larger fish. Trumpet fish feeds on small fish like Atheriniformes and wrasses by sucking them into their mouths with quick action.
The Moorish Idol was given its name by the Muslim inhabitants in Africa, who believed the fish would bring happiness in their lives. Moorish Idols were converted to aquarium fish over time, despite the wide range of habitats they are able to live in, they do not adjust easily to captivity.
The diet of the Moorish Idol is hard to replicate as they mostly live from vegetation like corals and sponges. These fish appear as disk-like fish with contrasting white, yellow and black bands, which make it an Aquatic favorite.
The Moorish Idol has small fins (except the dorsal fin). Its dorsal fin with its dramatic length forms a sickle-shaped, trailing crest called phi lo mantis extension. It has a small long mouth with long bristle-like teeth.
Rainbow Butterfly Fish
The Rainbow Butterfly Fish could be the most beautiful of the Butterfly Fish family. With rainbow-like colors (the reason these fish are called Rainbow Butterfly Fish). These fish can be found in the Indio-West Pacific waters and is mostly found at depths of approximately 65 feet.
The Rainbow Butterfly Fish has orange shading to the back and lower fin as well as the first section of its tail. Its bottom part is yellow with a blue tint towards the top and dorsal fin. It also has prominent stripe patterns along the full length of its body and a light black stripe that runs over its eyes.
The Black Triggerfish is blimp-shaped with prominent white lines that run along its body, anal fins, and dorsal fins. From a distance, the fish looks black, but when inspected closer you can see the dark green/blue color that often has orange coloring towards the head.
The Black Triggerfish is a circus tropical fish and can be found in Hawaii, Polynesia, South Africa, the Red Sea, East India, and the Indian Ocean. This fish is mostly found in open waters and reefs at a depth of 5-35 meters and can grow to approximately 12 inches.
Threadfin Butterfly Fish
The Hawaiian name for the Threadfin is “Lau Hau” and can be found at depths of 1m to approximately 35m. The Threadfin Butterfly Fish is the more popular of the butterfly fish (Chaetodontidae) family.
These fish can be found in Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Tonga. They can be hard to find as they are very shy and loves hiding behind a rock and in the outer and inner reef slopes.
The Threadfin Butterfly Fish can grow up to 23cm in length, with white crosshatch markings on its side. It has a prominent black spot and rear edges on its dorsal fin as well as a black band that runs through its eye.
Saddleback Wrasses are one of the most common reef fish to be found in Hawaii. These fish were named for their bold red saddle behind their pectoral fins. There are 43 different species of Wrasse where 13 of which are endemic and can only be found in Hawaii.
Saddleback Wrasse have pouting lips that hide their canine teeth that are used to pluck their food from the reefs. The pharyngeal bones in their gills assist with crushing the shells of their prey.
The Milletseed Butterflyfish (also known as the Lemon Butterflyfish), is yellow with dark spots on the sides that form vertical stripes. It also has a very prominent black section where the tail and the body meets. Its fin is bright yellow which makes the black stand out even more.
Its Hawaiian name (Lau wiliwili) resembles the leaf-like shape of the fish’s body and the yellow color of the wiliwili leaf.
The Humuhumunukunukuapua’a is also known as the Rectangular Triggerfish and is labeled as Hawaii’s State Fish. Hawaii has over 40 different species of Triggerfish that live in the subtropical and tropical oceans around the world.
The Triggerfish grows to an average of 8-20 inches. This strange fish makes a snorting sound when warning other fish when there is any danger in the area. It can also push out a spike-like a feature, which is how he got his name as “Triggerfish”.