Tag Archives: Hawkfish

The morning dip

A whitetip reef shark passes below looking, I think, for a quiet place to get some rest.
A fourspot butterflyfish swims by a patch of cauliflower coral, some living, some dead. There are two spots on each side, but this fish was very small so the second spot was still filling in as space allowed.
A blue goatfish cruises by.
A green linckia sea star and lobster molt. Most green linckia have five arms but can have four or six. They’re able to reproduce by detaching an arm which will eventually develop into a new star.

This week’s Friendly Friday challenge theme is ‘Morning Rituals.’ See more responses here.

Most mornings, I try to get in the water, as conditions and schedules allow. Morning is the best time for snorkeling as the water is usually calmer before the wind picks up as the day wears on. Visibility can vary from day to day and it can help to check surf reports to see if there are any swells moving in. But calm water doesn’t guarantee good visibility just as swells don’t always mean bad visibility. There’s only one way to be sure and that’s to jump in.

My favorite thing about snorkeling is that every day is different and I never know what I’ll see. Going to the same spot means I become familiar with some of the regulars, but there are always transient creatures passing through including rays and dolphins. And while those big creatures are great to encounter, it’s equally interesting to watch the activities of smaller fish and marine invertebrates.

It’s a rare day indeed that I don’t emerge prattling on about something I saw while I was in the water. And on those rare days, well, I’ve still had a good swim to set me up for the day ahead.

It wasn’t until I processed this photo of a goldring surgeonfish that I noticed the stocky hawkfish resting motionless below it.

Arc-eye hawkfish and bleached coral

This is a typical pose for an arc-eye hawkfish, keeping very still as it nestles in a head of cauliflower coral. But the coral is not well. This patch is mostly bleached. The causes of coral bleaching include warmer than normal water temperatures, pollution, and sunscreens containing coral-killing ingredients.

Because of this third factor, Hawaii has passed a bill which will ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. This law goes into effect January 1, 2021. While this will help, it won’t do anything to keep harmful chemicals out of water runoff, and it won’t do anything to prevent the warming of the Pacific Ocean.

Last fall, we had a coral bleaching event here because of warmer ocean temperatures. It wasn’t as bad as feared, but still did damage to corals that were just recovering from previous bleaching events. There are one or two snorkeling sites here that I don’t visit anymore because the state of the coral is just too depressing. I’d like to think that this degradation can be reversed but, honestly, I’m not optimistic about that.

Cauliflower coral not spawning

Cauliflower coral and arc-eye hawkfish

Cauliflower coral

Cauliflower coral was once a mainstay of reefs along the west coast of the Big Island, but has been in decline for a while. Then, in late 2015, high water temperatures caused a huge coral bleaching event, which resulted in a die-off of more than 90% of the area’s cauliflower coral. In some places, nothing was left. Because of this, the reproduction of surviving corals has become of increased importance.

Different corals have different methods of reproduction. Cauliflower coral reproduces in a synchronized spawning event. During this event, the corals release gametes (eggs and sperm) into the water, creating a milky cloud. For many corals, the spawning event takes place at night, but research indicates that cauliflower corals spawn shortly after sunrise, two or three days after the May full moon. At least, that’s what I was told.

Consequently, twice last week, I got up at an early hour in order to be in the water before 7 a.m. in the hope of witnessing a cauliflower coral spawning. Yes, that’s the kind of life-on-the-edge that I lead.

The first priority was to find some live cauliflower coral, easier said than done. There were a few patches in deeper water, but since visibility was not great, it would be almost impossible to tell if and when they spawned. After some finning around, I found a shallow spot with three small clumps and decided to pin my hopes on them. The live coral was part of a larger mass, part of which had died, as can be seen in the photos. Also to be seen in the photos are an arc-eye hawkfish (above), and two four-spot butterflyfish (second photo) among others. Corals are very important to fish stocks because many small fish, and the young of bigger fish, use the coral for protection, a place to hide when threatened.

What’s not to be seen in the photos is any evidence of spawning, because I didn’t see any. It was unlikely that I would. Conditions might not have been right for the coral or my timing could have been off. The May full moon is actually on the 29th so it might be that the spawning will be at the end of the month, not the beginning. I’ll try again then.

Posted in response to this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge ‘Unlikely.’

Stocky hawkfish

A stocky hawkfish in the waters off the Big Island of Hawaii.

A lot of fish use camouflage, either for defense or for ambushing prey. From a photographic point of view, the nice thing about these kinds of fish are that they’ll remain stationary, relying on blending in, even when I get quite close. The downside, of course, is that it’s really hard to spot them unless they move.

Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a run of noticing some of these fish, moving or not. This stocky hawkfish remained glued to this spot even as I floated a foot or two away. It’s fun to see them on the move because they swim quite fast and then plunk down on a bit of rock or coral and are instantly still.

Arc-eye hawkfish

An arc-eye hawfish rests in a head of coral
It’s a common sight to see an arc-eye hawkfish perched in a head of coral, well assuming you’re in the water that is. If a predator comes along, they slip deeper into the coral for protection.

There are two patterns to these fish. Sometimes they’re paler than this one and have a distinctive white stripe on the side. One study has shown that the lighter fish tend to inhabit slightly deeper water where the coral is spread farther apart. Both patterns have the arc behind the eyes and the blue and red bars on the gill covers.