Maui II - under the water

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Ever since we arrived, the crystal clear Pacific Ocean has been tempting us. After a couple days of bad weather, we finaly got to dip into a colorful wonderworld. There are estimated 600 species of shore fishes, coming in all kind of colors, sizes, and shapes, live in the warm water around Hawaiian islands. Because Hawaiian islands are just the tips of an enormous, steep undersea mountain ranges, they're well isolated from other shallow water. As a results 25% of these inshore fishes are endemic (found only in Hawaii), a proportion that few other places can achieve.

A snorkeling/diving trip. In the morning we left the dock near Maalea Bay on a boat. A troop of Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus hectori maui) greeted us joyfully.

Our destination is the half-moon shape Molokini Islet, an ancient volanic cone that partially rise above water. The center of the crater is the prime snorkeling/diving site around Maui.

If you don't have a scuba diving certificate, snuba is something worth trying. You wear a scuba mask but the air is supplied by a hose connect to a raft instead of than a tank you carry. Although the activity range limited by the length of the hose, you can get a pretty good taste of diving without much training.

The visibility down there is just magnificent.

And these fearless creatures are quite oblivious of our existence.

Another interesting spot is the Turtle Town. As the name implies, it's the gathering place for Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas). It's fun chasing these gentle giants around.

You don't have take a boat out to enjoy snorkeling; along the coast of Maui there're plenty of good snorkeling site. My favorit being the Black Rock near our hotel. It's an ancient cinder cone that extend from the beach into shallow water. There're plenty of tamed fishes and turtles visit frequently.

If all those still not enough, you can always visit the aquarium in Maui Ocean Center.


Now since I collected quite a few fish images from the places above after days of snorkeling and snuba, plus I actually spent a few extra dollar on the purchase of a Hawaiian fish guide, I'll try to categorize them below, as a good marine biology lesson for myself. They are arranged in alphabetical order by their common names.

Angelfishes is probably the most showy, most colorful of all tropical fishes. In Hawaii, unfortunately, most angelfishes are mostly "pygmy angels," which tend to be small in sizes and shy. Shown below is a Potter's Angelfish (Centropyge potteri).


Blennies. These are small bottom dwelling fishes that feed on mucus or scales from larger fishes. In the first pic is a Bullethead Blenny (Blenniella gibbifrons); in the next 2 pix is a two-tune male Spotted Coral Blenny (Exallias brevis); in the last pic is a Gosline's Fang Blenny (Plagiotremus goslinei).


Butterflyfishes. These are a group of pretty tropical fishes that are found in corals around the world. If you're in search for a icon of the beauty of coral fishes, don't have to look any further. With a brightly-colored, disk-like body that resemble the palette of an artist, these creatures are exquisite displays of delicate patterns and vivid hues that would bright up your dreams. Butterflyfishes often appear in pairs and they mate for life. They feed on invertebrates, plaktons, and sometimes algaes. In the first 2 pix is a Raccoon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon lunula); 3rd pic, a Threadfin Butterflyfish (Chaetodon auriga); 4th, a Pyramid Butterflyfish (Hemitaurichthys polylepis); next in the 5th and 6th, a pair of Longnose Butterflyfishes (Forcipiger flavissimus); last pic, a Milletseed Butterflyfish (Chaetodon miliaris).


Chubs. These heavy-looking fish with a thick lip are actually gentle vegetarians. They like to gather around the rudder of boats to feed on algaes and waste thrown from the boat, which also earn them the name Rudderfish (Centrolophus niger). In the first 2 pix is a Gray Chub (Kyphosus bigibbus), the last 2, a Highfin Chub (Kyphosus cinerascens).


Damselfishes. A commonly-seen small fishes that aggregate in shallow waters (1st pic). In the 2nd and 3rd pix, a group of Indo-Pacific Sergeant (Abudefduf vaigiensis, the name obviously come from the five dark stripes); in the last 2 pix is a group of native Hawaiian Sergeants (Abudefduf abdominalis), which is more pale in color.

More Damselfishes. A group of Blackspot Sergeants (Abudefduf sordidus) in the 1st 4 pix; a group of Hawaiian Dascyllus (Dascyllus albisella, juvenile) in the 5th; those colorful tiny fishes in the last pic is the juveniles of Oval Chromis (Chromis ovalis).


Eels. In the first pic is a Widemouth Moray (Gymnothorax eurygnathos), you can see where that name come from. In the next 3 pix is a Garden Eel (Heteroconger cobra), which often found half-buried in sandy bottom where water currents are strong. They flow with currents to feed on planktons. When alarmed, they can quickly drill into the sand, tail first. In the last pic is a Snowflake Moray (Echidna nebulosa).


Filefishes are relatives of Triggerfish. They have a dorsal spine that erects when they feel threaten, and in many species the spine is thorny, which make it look like a file. Another theory suggests the name comes from the rough texture of the fishes' skin, which feel like sandpaper. In the following pix is a Barred Filefish (Cantherhines dumerilii).


Flagtails are small silvery perch-like fishes with a banded tailfin (hence the name). The following pix are schools of Zebra-head Flagtails (Kuhlia xenura).


Frogfish (Antennarius commersonii). These peculiar-looking creatures are extremely patient hunters. They can sit on brightly color sponges and blend perfectly into the environment for long period, until unawared prey swim by.


Goatfishes. The name come from their barbels that resemble the beard of a goat. In the 1st 3 pix is a colorful Manybar Goatfish (Parupeneus multifasciatus); In the next 4 pix is a group of Yellowfin Goatfish (Mulloidichthys vanicolensis), which always gather on the sunny side of the Black Rock.


Groupers. These are large bottom-dwelling predators, with a large mouth and large appetite. They usually ambush or stalk, and when the prey is close enough, they suddently open their huge mouth widely, which suck in a large amount of water; and in with the water is their meal. In the following pix is a Peacock Grouper (Cephalopholis argus).


Jacks are known as game and commercial fishes. Shown here are a group of Bigeye Jacks (Caranx latus).

Moorish Idol (Zanclus cornutus). Here is another familiar face. The Moorish Idol is probably the most popular tropical fish; if you pay attention, you can probably find one printed on your shower curtain, your bath towel, or any underwater theme design at home. It resemble a butterfly fish in apparance, but it's biologically related to the Surgeon fishes, although it lacks the scalpel. The name come from the Moors of Africa, who belive the fish is a sign of happiness.


Needlefishes, Trumpetfishes, and Cornetfishes. A pair of Keeltail Needlefishes (Platybelone argalus) shown in the first pic. The name obviously come from the needle-like beak. These are predators that feed on small schooling fishes. Pacific Trumpetfishes (Aulostomus chinensis, next 4 pix) look similar in the first glace, but they're actually more flatten from side to side, and their body is so stiff that they can rarely bend when swimming. They're also predators that can such small fishes into their tubular mouths. In the last a pix is a Bluespotted Cornetfish (Fistularia tabacaria).


Parrotfishes. The name obvious come from the heavy beak and their blue-green colors. They're relative of wrasses and share the same trick of switching their genders as they grow up. In the 1st 2 pix is a Ember Parrotfish (Scarus rubroviolaceus, in his "supermale" stage, meaning he'll settle as a male); next in the 3rd and 4th pix is a Bullethead Parrotfish (Chlorurus sordidus) supermale; in the last 2 pix, a Stareye Parrotfish (Calotomus carolinus) supermale.


Pufferfishes earn the name by one neat trick: when alarmed, they can suck a large amount of water (or air when they're out of water) into their extremely elastic stomach so they swell into a thorny ball. That trick may scare away some predators, or at least make them difficult to swallow. In the first 3 pix is a Stripebelly Puffer (Arothron hispidus), and the next two is a Spotted Puffer (Tetraodon shoutedeni). In the last pix is a pair of baby Spotted Puffer of Spotted Boxfish (Ostracion meleagris), I can't tell.


Rays and Sharks. These are cartilaginous fishes, among the oldest of all vertebrates. In the first pic, a pair of Broad Stingrays (Dasyatis lata); next 3 pix, a Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari); the 5th pic, a Hammerhead Shark (Sphyrna lewini); in the last pic, a Tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). Tiger sharks are responsible for most of the shark attacks in Hawaii.


Scorpionfishes are bottom dwelling, patient ambush predators. They're not to be messed with, since many of them have venomous spines that can give you a pretty good sting. In the first pic is a Titan Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis cacopsis) and the second is a Devil Scorpionfish (Scorpaenopsis diabolus). Both are masters of disguise. Both fishes in the last 2 pix are Leaf Scorpionfishes (Taenianotus triacanthus); they have a permanently extended dorsal fins and a flat body and usually swaying in water like a leaf.


Seahorses. Show here are Yellow Seahorses (Hippocampus kuda), commonly found throughout Indo-Pacific Ocean.


Snappers and Emperors. These are mid-sized carnivors. The Bluestrip Snapper (Lutjanus kasmira, 1st pic) was artificially introduced to Hawaiian in 1958 for commercial fishing. It is not doing very well, however, and it's generally considered a pest. There's only one Emporor species live in Hawaii, the Bigeye Emperor (Monotaxis grandoculus) shown in the 2nd and 3rd pix.


Surgeon Fishes is probably the most abundant group of fishes in Hawaiian reefs. The name come from the two forward pointing spines on each end of the tail, as sharp as scalpels. A swipe of tail can produce deep and painful cuts in enemies or careless human. In some species the scalpels are even poisonous, which make the wound excceedingly painful and slow to heal. As a warning sign, the weapon is usually brightly colored. So for divers and snorkelers, it's wise to keep you distance.

The brightly colored Yellow Tang (Zebrasoma flavescens, 4 pix) is my favorit surgeon fish. It's entirely yellow except for two white tail spines - trade mark of surgeon fishes. In the next 3 pix is a group of Eyestrip Surgeon Fishes.

The group striated surgeon fishes in the 1st 3 pix are appropriately named Convict Tangs (Acanthurus triostegus). They're the most wide-spread and abundant surgeon fish in Indo-Pacific Ocean. Next in the 4th pic is a Sailfin Tang (Zebrasoma veliferum). This is not a good fish for sashimi because when eaten raw, it'll irritate the throat badly. Next in the 5th pic is a Yellowfin Surgeon Fish (Yellowfin Surgeon Fish); in the last 2 pix is a Brown Surgeonfish (Acanthurus nigrofuscus).

Unicorn fish is a funny-looking group of surgeon fishes. The name obviously comes from a protruding nose of various sizes. From left to right, with increase size of nose (Oh be honest Pinocchio!), are Paletail Unicornfish (Naso brevirostris, 2 pix); Bluespine Unicornfish (Naso unicornis, middle 3 pix); and Whitemargin Unicornfish (Naso annulatus, with super long nose in the last pic). Today biologists still don't have a good idea what the horn is for: for sexual attraction? Both male and female have horns; weapon for a fight? These fishes are not aggressive; and if they do fight, they usually use their sharp scalpels, which are apparently much more effective; An antenna, sense organ? No evidence supporting that... If the horn does anything that we know of, it is blocking the adult fish from feed on surface-living algaes, which force some species to switch their diet from algaes to plaktons as their horn gets too long. What a costly piece of jewelry to wear.

Some unicornfishes, such as these Orangespine Surgeonfishes (Naso lituratus) below, actually don't have a horn.


Triggerfishes earned their names from their dorsal fin. The first spine of the fin, strong and thick, can be locked into an erected position when the fish's alert, making the fish difficult to swallow or removed from their hiding place. Now here's the trick, if you depress the second spin, it'll release the locking mechanism and losen the sticking dosal fin. Work like a charm. However, that doesn't mean the fish is disarm and you can now handle it as you please, these little guys are known to deliver pretty nasty bites. A Lagoon Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus aculeatus) in the 1st 3 pix; a Wedgetail Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus) in the next 3 pix.

A Lei Triggerfish (Sufflamen bursa) in the 1st 2 pix; a group of Gilded Triggerfishes (Xanthichthys auromarginatus) in the 3rd & 4th pix (it's only the male that are gilded; the plain-looking ones are female); a group of Black Triggerfish (Melichthys niger) in the 5th, 6th pix; a Pinktail Triggerfish (Melichthys vidua) in the last pic (hard to tell in that deep blue, but trust me, the tail is pink).


Wrasses is a large and diverse family of coral fishes found in tropical reefs all around the world. They come in all kind of colors and sizes, and vary dramatically with age and gender, which make classification difficult. To make things worse, they can switch genders as they mature. In the past, biologists have mistakenly given male and femal, juvenile and adult of the same wrasse species different names. Now we know in general, most wrasses start their lives as female, but as they grow, a few of them transform into male, with larger sizes and brighter colors, and live a more active lifestyle. Just to make a point, look at the first 3 pix, who would've guess that they belong to the same species? Well as a matter of fact they are male adult (1st), female adult (2nd), and juvenile (3rd) of Yellowtail Coris (Coris gaimard). Next in the 4th pic is the ugliest fish I've ever seen, a Bird Wrasses (Gomphosus varius, supermale), with a lumpy beak only its mother would love; in the last 2 pix an adult Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasses (Labroides phthirophagus). These tiny cleaner fishes make their living by picking external parasite and mucus on bigger fishes. And yes, different as they look, these fishes're all wrasses.

In the first 3 pix is a supermale Saddle Wrasses (Thalassoma duperrey); next 2 pix, a supermale Ornate Wrasses (Halichoeres ornatissimus).

More wrasses. In the first pic is the juvenile of a Blackstripe Coris (Coris pictoides); in the next 3 pix is a supermale Christmas Wrasses (Halichoeres ornatissimus) with the festivous red and green strips; in the 4th pic is an initial phase Christmas Wrasses, which can be either male or female and much less colorful.


Sea Urchins are not fishes but belong to a much more primitive class Echinoidea, relatives of sea stars and sea cucummber. In the 1st 2 pix is a Red Pencil Urchin (Heterocentrotus mammillatus), next 2 pix, a Blue Black Urchin (Echinothrix diadema). The last pic, a Coushion Sea Star (Culcita schmideliana).

These are not fishes either. In the first 2 pix is a Hawaiian Bobtail Squid (Euprymna scolopes). It can swim by the fin, their mantle, or by jet propulson from its mouth; next in the 3rd pix, a group of Jellyfishes; last pic, a Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus).


Last and probably the most important part of the marine ecosystem in Hawaii, the Corals. Over tens of millions of years, these tiny sea anemone-like organisms've lived and died, each accumulated its calcium carbonate skeleton into magnificient coral reefs and provided a rich and vibrant environment for millions of other marine creatures.

In the first pic is a Mushroom Coral or Fungia (Actinodiscus sp.), namely looks like a fungus; in the rest of the pix are Cauliflower Corals (Pocillopora meandrina). The last one is probably used by Wrasses as a Cleaning Station for larger fishes.

Below are all Lobe Corals (Porites lobata).


Wildlife on the island. Start with Mammals and Reptiles. In the first pic is an Indian Mongoose (Herpestes javanicus). It's not a native specie but introduced in 1883 to deal with the rat problem in Maui's sugar cane field. Well, like many other uneducated introduction of foreign species to an isolated ecosystem, it was an disaster, to many other native species. Mongoose didn't kill much rats, since they hunt during day time, while rats are nocturnal. Instead, they brought a massacre to many native animals: insects, snails, slugs, crabs, fishes lizards, birds, even mammals several times of their size such as rabbits and young white-tail deers. Mongoose rule the island. In the rest of the pix is a Green Anole Lizard (Anolis carolinensis). It's a lovely sight when it display that pink dewlap for courtship or marking its territory.

Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia mydas) do not appear to be green but more like brown and yellow. The green come from the color of their body fat (if you cut them open, obvious, and apparently many early European mariners did. For them these Green Sea Turtules were an important food source). Green Sea Turtle is now widely considered as an endangered species.

Birds. The Great Frigatebird (Fregata minor) is a large and agile seabird with wide wing span (up to 2.3m) and a long forked tail; Next in the 4th pic is a group of Black Noddies (Anous minutus); in the last 2 pix, a House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus).

In the first 3 pix the pretty red bird is a Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis); next 3 pix, a Red-crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata).

In the first pic, a pair of Gray Francolin (Francolinus pondicerianus); next the 2nd and 3rd pix, a Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis); next in the 4th pic, a Waxbill; the 5th, a House Sparrow; the last pic, a Spotted Dove (Streptopelia chinensis).


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