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10 Underwater Friends You Might Meet in Maui

By January 15, 2024 No Comments

10 Underwater Friends You Might Meet in MauiMaui’s reef fish and other creatures to see when snorkeling.

Snorkeling in Maui opens the door to a captivating underwater realm teeming with diverse and vibrant marine life. From colorful reef fish to graceful sea turtles, the island’s coastal waters boast a rich biodiversity that enchants snorkelers and nature enthusiasts alike. So, what are you likely to see when you grab your snorkel gear and gaze under the ocean’s surface? Here are 10 underwater friends you might meet in Maui.

Hawaiian Green sea turtle

Hawaiian Green sea turtle

Honu – Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

One of the most iconic and frequently encountered marine animals in Maui’s snorkeling spots is the Hawaiian Green sea turtle, known locally as the honu. These gentle giants, characterized by their olive-green shells and graceful paddling flippers, are a symbol of good luck and longevity in Hawaiian culture. Snorkelers often have the privilege of swimming alongside these ancient creatures as they glide through the water or easily rest on the sandy ocean floor. The Hawaiian Green sea turtle is a genetically distinct population that exists only in the Hawaiian archipelago. They can dive up to 1,500 feet, and live up to 100 years! 

However, as magical as they are, be sure to keep your distance! Harassing a sea turtle is illegal in Hawai’i and punishable by a fine of up to $100,000. So, just treat the turtles you see like you would want to be treated by any stranger. Keep a respectful distance, throw a shaka, and carry on. You’re pretty likely to see Hawaiian Green sea turtles on a Molokini + Turtle Town tour. Learn more about the Hawaiian Green sea turtle here. 

Humuhumunukunukuapua'a at Black Rock, Kaanapali, Maui

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a at Black Rock, Kaanapali, Maui.

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a – Reef Triggerfish

At most snorkel spots around Maui, you are very likely to encounter the charismatic humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or the reef triggerfish. Its name means a triggerfish with a snout like a pig, referring to its characteristic rooting behaviors and apparent grunting sounds it makes when threatened. With its striking patterns and vibrant colors, this fish holds the distinction of being Hawaii’s state fish. Recognizable by its unique snout and a distinctive black triangle on its dorsal fin, the humuhumu, as it is affectionately called, is a frequent inhabitant of Maui’s coral reefs. Snorkelers can observe these fish defending their territory and seeking refuge among the coral formations, contributing to the dynamic life of the reef. Learn more about the humuhumunukunukuapua’a here. 

Hawaiian parrotfish at Ahihi Kinau

Hawaiian parrotfish at Ahihi Kinau

Uhu – Hawaiian Parrotfish

Hawaiian Parrotfish, with their kaleidoscopic hues and distinctive beak-like mouths, are another enchanting presence in Maui’s snorkeling sites. In Hawaiian folklore, the Uhu is the parent of all other fish. These colorful herbivores play a crucial role in maintaining the health of coral reefs by grazing on algae and dead coral. Then, after (sometimes loudly) munching away, they poop out sand, contributing to the beautiful beaches on which we love to lounge. What generous guys and gals! Which brings us to the next fun fact about Hawaiian Parrotfish: they change genders from female to male in their lifetime. These incredibly important, interesting, and vibrantly colored fish are a joy to watch as they navigate the reef. See a Hawaiian Parrotfish in our video on the Ahihi Bay Beach and Snorkeling Guide. Learn more about Hawaiian Parrotfish here.

Group of Yellow Tang

Group of Yellow Tang

Lau’ipala – Yellow Tang

The vibrant yellow tang, a small and brightly colored member of the surgeonfish family, is a ubiquitous sight in Maui’s coastal waters. Its Hawaiian name means “yellowed ti leaf.” In fact, it’s the only solid yellow fish commonly seen in Hawaiian reef systems. Traveling in schools, these oval-shaped fish contribute to the visual spectacle of the reefs. Their yellow bodies create a vivid contrast against the blue backdrop of the ocean, making them both a visually striking and common encounter during snorkeling adventures. Yellow Tang are important for reef system health, as they graze on algae that would otherwise choke out slower growing corals. Learn more about Yellow Tang here. 

Moorish Idol

Moorish Idol

Kihikihi – Moorish Idol

Moorish idols, characterized by their elongated dorsal fins and distinct black, white, and yellow patterns, bring an air of elegance to the underwater scenery. Its Hawaiian name refers to zigzags or curves. In fact, their distinctive patterning is thought to help protect Moorish Idols from predation by breaking up their body outline. They are alone in their own family: Family Zanclidae, and are most closely related to surgeonfish. These graceful fish often swim alone or in small groups. Their flowing movements and striking coloration make them a sought-after sighting for snorkelers exploring the coral formations of Maui. Learn more about Moorish Idols here. 

Juvenile mamo

Juvenile mamo

Mamo – Hawaiian Sergeant Fish

Among the schools of fish that populate Maui’s reefs, the Hawaiian sergeant fish stands out with its bright yellow body and bold black stripes. The Hawaiian sergeant fish is a member of damselfish family. This particular species is endemic to Hawaii and found nowhere else in the world! Their English name derives from the males’ militaristic defense of their nests, which can contain eggs from many females. These social fish create mesmerizing displays of synchronized swimming as they move around coral formations. Their collective movements add a dynamic and lively presence to the underwater landscape, creating a visual symphony of colors and patterns. Learn more about Hawaiian Sergeant Fish here. 

Common longnose butterflyfish

Common longnose butterflyfish

Lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi – Common Longnose Butterflyfish

And you thought humuhumunukunukuapua’a was a long Hawaiian name! In fact, Lauwiliwili nukunuku ‘oi’oi holds the title for longest Hawaiian fish name. The name refers to a sharp (‘oi’oi) snout (nukunuku) fish shaped like a wiliwili leaf (lauwiliwili). Common longnose butterflyfish, with their vibrant colors and delicate appearance, grace the coral reefs of Maui, adding a splash of beauty to the underwater landscape. Their distinct long snout helps the common longnose butterflyfish probe crevices in corals for invertebrates and and crustacean parasites.

Importantly, the common longnose is just one of about 25 butterflyfish species found in Hawaiian waters. The social and monogamous nature of butterflyfish, often seen in pairs, adds to their charm. Observing these graceful creatures navigating through the coral formations, fluttering their vibrant fins, provides a captivating glimpse into the intricate and colorful tapestry of marine life that thrives in the warm waters surrounding Maui. Learn more about the common longnose butterflyfish here. 

Hawaiian cleaner wrasse

Hawaiian cleaner wrasse

Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse

The Hawaiian cleaner wrasse, a small and agile fish, is a fascinating presence in Maui’s reefs. It’s endemic to Hawai’i, meaning you won’t find it anywhere else. However, there is no known Hawaiian name for this little wonder. Recognized by its distinctive blue, magenta, and yellow coloration, this wrasse performs a vital role by picking parasites off of larger fish, contributing immensely to the overall health of the reef ecosystem. Our friends at Maui Scuba have even dubbed this little fish “The Car Wash of the Pacific!” Observing these small but industrious fish at work is a testament to the delicate balance and symbiotic relationships that characterize life beneath the ocean’s surface. Learn more about Hawaiian cleaner wrasse here. 

Moray eel peeking out of coral at Molokini

Moray eel peeking out of coral at Molokini.

Puhi – Moray Eels

Moray eels, fascinating and enigmatic creatures, are a notable presence in the waters around Maui. Known for their sinuous bodies, sharp teeth, and keen predatory instincts, moray eels can be encountered in the island’s coral reefs and rocky crevices. Despite their somewhat menacing appearance, moray eels are typically shy and reclusive, often hiding in crevices during the day. Just don’t go sticking your fingers in crevices that might be eel lairs!

Discerning observers of Maui’s underwater world are most likely to catch glimpses of these remarkable creatures as they cautiously peer out from their hiding spots. Moray eels are carnivorous and known to hunt small fish and crustaceans. They’re more likely to hunt at night because their eyesight is poor but their sense of smell is excellent. Spotting these elusive predators is always an exciting treasure. If you look very closely, you could probably spot a Moray eel peeking out of the reef at Molokini on a Molokini + Turtle Town tour. Learn more about Moray eels here.

Day octopus

Day octopus

He’e Mauli – Day Octopus

Speaking of hard-to-spot sea creatures, the day octopus graces the waters around Maui with its intelligence and captivating behavior. Of the 76 species of cephalopods found in Hawai’i, the day octopus is the most commonly seen. But that doesn’t mean they’re easy to find! Scientifically known as Octopus cyanea, this species is recognized for its ability to adapt its skin color and texture, allowing it to seamlessly blend into its surroundings and communicate with other octopuses. A particularly fun fact about octopuses in general is that they cannot see color, but they feel it. Wow.

If you look very carefully when snorkeling, you may have the privilege of encountering the day octopus in the island’s coral reefs and rocky areas. The day octopus is most active during the early morning and late afternoon, putting its clever camouflaging abilities to good use. With a voracious appetite for crustaceans, small fish, and even other octopuses, the day octopus plays a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem. Its fleeting appearances, intricate movements, and ever-changing colors make the day octopus a captivating and elusive resident of Maui’s coastal waters. Learn more about the Day octopus here.

Snorkel Smart and Enjoy!

Full Snorkel Set RentalThese 10 are just a few of the underwater friends you might meet in Maui. When you rent a full snorkel set from Auntie Snorkel, we include a fish ID card that will help you identify some of your new friends on the spot. We find that the best way to catch a glimpse of the most marine life is to gently float on the surface and be still, so as not to startle the residents. One of the easiest ways to do that is using a float belt, so be sure to add one to your snorkeling kit.

Overall, snorkeling in Maui offers a sensory feast for nature lovers, providing a front-row seat to the intricate dance of life beneath the ocean’s surface. Whether swimming alongside majestic sea turtles, marveling at the vivid colors of tropical fish, or exploring the hidden corners of coral reefs, each snorkeling adventure in Maui is a unique and immersive journey into the heart of the Pacific’s underwater paradise.

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About Auntie Snorkel

Auntie Snorkel shop has been serving Maui’s fun seekers for over 33 years, established in 1985. We're the original South Maui Snorkel Shop. When I bought the shop 10 years ago from Auntie, we decided to keep the name. The name "Auntie" is a term of respect here in Hawaii. I'm living my dream. I get to meet awesome people from all over the world and share with them my love and knowledge of this magical island that I get to call home. We know all the spots. I have lived here since 2001. We're the true definition of a family owned and operated shop. I answer the phones and work the shop along with my family. When you shop with us you're supporting my ohana and for that I thank you!! Why go anywhere else? We're the friendliest, fastest, cheapest and our location is the most epic! Mahalo and Aloha”. ~Mark Noble (Owner & Maui Fun Expert)

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