Fish Guide for Snorkeling Maui
These blackfish have a distinctive orange patch near the tail and some seriously beautiful orange, white, and blue stripes that look like they were painted on. Growing to 10 inches long, the Achilles Tang can be found in surge zones, along rocky shores and coral reefs. While you should always try to keep a respectful distance from fish while snorkeling, it’s especially true of the Achilles Tang, as their tails consist of sharp spines that can cause deep wounds.
White and grey in color, as juveniles and females, Bird Wrasses, like all Wrasses, will evolve into males, as they mature, and turn blue and green. With their distinctive snouts, the Bird Wrasse can grow to about 10 inches long. They can usually be found near the reef looking to dine on shellfish, worms, urchins and other sea creatures.
Also called a Black Triggerfish, the Black Durgon appears to be a solid blackfish, with white stripes that run along its dorsal and rear fins. But a closer look reveals that the “black” is actually multiple colors, and depending on the lighting can be quite striking. This blimp-shaped fish is normally around 12 inches long, but it can grow to 18 inches. Black Durgon are usually found just below the surface, near rocky and coral reefs. (Photo copyright Conchasdiver | Dreamstime.com)
Blacktip Reef Shark
With black-tipped dorsal and pectoral fins, the Blacktip Reef Shark is fairly easy to differentiate from other sharks. They are considered relatively harmless and should not alarm you if you spot one while snorkeling. As long as you don’t antagonize them, and stay a respectable distance from them, you should be safe. They can grow to around six feet.
Bluespine Unicorn Tang
With a horn-like growth out of the middle of its forehead, it’s no mystery where this fish got its name. Like the Achilles Tang, Bluespine Unicorn Tangs have sharp spines in their tales that can cause injury if you touch them. They can grow to 24 inches and tend to feed near shallow reef surfaces.
The Christmas Wrasse, named for its red and green coloring, can be found primarily in shallow reefs and along rocky bottoms, going as deep as 30 feet. Growing to nearly a foot in length, it’s one of the larger Wrasse fish in Hawaiian waters. (Photo copyright Krlkllr34 | Dreamstime.com)
The most common of the Tang (or Surgeonfish) family, the Convict Tang can be found in tide pools and shallow reefs all the way down to depths of 150 feet. These distinctive fish really do look like convicts with their white bodies and black stripes. The Convict Tang averages about six inches in length and feeds on reef algae.
Unless you look closely, this fish can be easily confused with the yellow Longnose Butterflyfish. Both fish are bright yellow, with dark heads, and long noses. But, there are two main characteristics that separate the two fish: the Forceps Butterflyfish has a slightly shorter nose, and its jaw is roughly one-third shorter. The Forceps Butterflyfish feeds in shallower parts of the reef, whereas the Yellow Longnose feeds in the deeper waters at the outer reef. (Photo copyright Oskanov | Dreamstime.com)
With a bright yellow lower body and a black top half, the fourspot is so named for the two white spots on each side of its body. Still, it’s often confused with raccoon butterflyfish, even though the black rings around its eyes are far less prominent than in the raccoon variety. The fourspot butterflyfish is common in Maui’s reefs and reaches a length of about 8 inches. (Photo copyright Krlkllr34 | Dreamstime.com)
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Native to Hawai’i, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the world. They can grow upwards of 4 feet long and can weigh more than 300 pounds. They are the most common of the five sea turtles you’ll see in Maui’s waters. The other turtles you may come across are the Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are endangered species. It is against the law to touch them.
Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby Pufferfish
Endemic to Hawaii, these small fish grow to around three inches. The Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby Pufferfish is yellowish to dark brown, with white spots, and are the most common pufferfish found in Maui’s waters. Like all pufferfish, when alarmed, these fish will expand their size by upwards of 2x to 3x by sucking in and holding water. They, also, have poisonous toxins in their skin that makes them dangerous for predators and humans. (Photo copyright Wrangel | Dreamstime.com)
Milletseed Butterflyfish The black-spotted, yellow Milletseed Butterflyfish is endemic to Hawaiian waters and is one of the most common fish seen by snorkelers in Maui’s reefs. It has a unique, vertical black eye mask. They tend to swim in schools in both shallow and deep reefs and grow to about 6.5 inches.
Quite beautiful, the Moorish Idol is often confused for a butterflyfish, but it’s actually a member of its own species. These fish are commonly seen near the sea floor around shallow reefs by snorkelers. Besides its coloring, another characteristic of Moorish Idols is their extremely long dorsal fin that can double the length of the fish. Moorish Idols can grow up to nine inches long.
Long and narrow with needle-like pointy beaks, needlefish swim near the ocean’s surface, and often leap from the water. While you’re in the water, they can actually be hard to spot as the shimmering silver coloration often looks like simple waves. Needlefish can range from a couple of inches all the way to three feet or more. (Photo copyright Andris Lipskis | Dreamstime.com)
Generally, between 6 to 14 inches long, the Orangeband Surgeonfish is identified by a thick orange strip just above its pectoral fin. Another fairly easy identifier is their two-toned body, normally white (or lighter) in the front half of their body and grey in the back. They tend to swim in schools near the sandy ocean floor.
Orangespine Unicorn Tang
Unlike the Bluespine Unicorn Tang, the Orangespine Unicorn Tang does not have a prominent “horn,” but an easy to way to identify these fish is by the orange band where its tail meets its body. They primarily feed in shallow reef surfaces and can grow up to 24 inches long.
The Ornate Wrasse lives near the reef and can be found at depths from as shallow as 3 feet all the way to down to nearly 500 feet. They normally reach a length of about 6 inches but can grow up to 10 inches. These multi-colored fish normally sport a pinkish head with green, blue, and red spots and stripes.
A brilliant pink, orange or blue, parrotfish are commonly seen on Maui reefs. Though they are often colored similar to parrots, their name is derived from their beak-like snouts. Parrotfish can be found in both shallow and deep water reefs and can grow quite large, up to six feet in some cases, though most range between less than a foot to three feet long. By expelling the corals they eat, Parrotfish are actually partly responsible for the white “sand” beaches you’ll find around Hawaii.
With a white body and two wide black stripes, this fish is often confused for the Moorish Idol. The main way to tell them apart is in the length of the dorsal tail. Where the Pennant Butterflyfish seems as though it’s snipped off, the Moorish has an extremely long one. They are often seen in schools in deeper water.
Growing to nearly eight inches in length, the Raccoon Butterflyfish has an oval shape and is named for its black, raccoon-like mask. Its bright yellow body is easy to spot against the reef. The Raccoon Butterflyfish is very common in Maui’s waters.
Reef Triggerfish (Humuhumunukanukaapua’a )
The state fish of Hawaii, Humuhumunukanukaapua’a means “triggerfish with a snout like a pig.” While they reside in shallow reefs, they aren’t the friendliest of fishes and will scatter if they feel encroached upon. That said, with their bright, distinctive coloring, they are easy to spot and track from a distance. They grow to about 10 inches.
A fish native to Hawai’ian waters, the Saddle Wrasse can reach nearly a foot in length and are found mostly in waters from about 15 to 75 feet deep. The Saddle Wrasse acquired its name because of the colorful “saddle,” normally red, located behind the dorsal fin. The Saddle Wrasse is one of the most common fish you’ll see while snorkeling Maui’s waters.
Sergeant Major Fish
So named for the five black stripes running vertically against it’s, generally, blue coloring, the Sergeant Major fish can live in waters up to 130 feet deep. Juveniles can be found in tide pools. Though they can grow up to 9 inches, most max out at around 6 inches.
While the females are primarily brown, and the males mostly blue, they are named for the spots that cover their bodies. Hawaii’s most common boxfish, they swim mostly in shallow waters and can often be seen by beachgoers wading near the shoreline. Spotted boxfish can grow to 10 inches, though most tend to be around six inches. (Copyright Dirk Jan Mattaar | Dreamstime.com)
Pufferfish come in two varieties, smooth and spiny. The Spotted Pufferfish is a smooth puffer that can reach 20 inches in length. Fairly common in Maui’s waters, they are brown with white spots and can found near the reef during the day.
Normally hanging out near the inner and outer reef slopes, Threadfin Butterflyfish grow to around eight inches in Hawai’i’s waters. To tell this fish from other Butterflyfish, look for the black dot near the rear of its dorsal fin.
Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish
While, normally, bright yellow in color, researchers believe the Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish will sometimes turn dark brown, then possibly shift back to its yellow color. They grow up to eight inches in length and tend to live in deeper waters at the far end of the reef. (Copyright Olga Khoroshunova | Dreamstime.com)
Yellowmargin Moray Eel
While eels are often seen in the reefs of Maui, the Yellowmargin Moray eel is the most common. Staying hidden in the reef during the day, they are sometimes difficult to spot. Yellowmargin Moray eels can grow to four feet in length. While they have acquired a bit of a scary reputation, as long as you don’t provoke them, Moray eels are not considered dangerous. But, as with everything under the sea, you should stay back a respectable distance and don’t antagonize them.
Probably the easiest fish to spot and identify along Maui’s reefs, the Yellow Tang’s bright yellow coloring really stands out. Your eyes can’t help but be attracted to it. It’s the only solid yellow fish in these waters. They can grow to eight inches and are normally found in shallow reefs.
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