In Hawaii, snorkelers get to celebrate Christmas year-round thanks to the Christmas wrasse. I’m not sure why it got that name – it has others – but I suspect it has to do with its colorful appearance. Regardless, I’m sure it would like to join me in wishing everyone a happy Christmas.
The blackstripe coris, also known as the yellowstripe coris, is an endemic wrasse. According to my fish book, John P. Hoover’s The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes, Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals, it’s most abundant around the northwestern islands of the Hawaii chain. Around the main islands, mature females are uncommon and males rare.
The fish in the top photo is a large male. It has no black stripes, yellow stripes, or stripes of any kind, because this is one of those species where the male and female look radically different. This male was sparkling green in a variety of patterns. The other photo shows a female, which gives a better idea of why the fish got its name.
A female pearl wrasse catching a bit of sun, which really makes her colors shine.
The Hawaiian hogfish is an endemic species. Mature fish live in deeper water around the Big Island so juveniles and subadults are more often seen. However, this one is a mature female and, while they’re not commonly seen while snorkeling, they do pop up on a regular basis. They feed on molluscs, urchins, crabs, and stars amongst other things.
Bird wrasses are quite distinctive. The long ‘beak’ is used for winkling out crabs and shrimp from nooks and crannies in the reef. The top photo shows a blue and green supermale, with its lighter green blaze above the pectoral fin. To the right is a more subduedly-colored initial phase bird wrasse, that could be male or female.
These are one of those fish that seem to be in constant motion. I have taken many photos of them where they aren’t in shot by the time I push the button. I got lucky with these two.
A small cleaner wrasse works at removing parasites, dead tissue and mucus from a great barracuda. The service they provide is recognized by larger potential predators, which don’t harm these little blue and yellow fish, even when they go inside the mouth to clean.
Great barracudas are generally mostly silver with black marks on the tail fins and second dorsal fins. However, some great barracudas, such as this one, have black marks on other fins and their silvery sides are mottled with darker markings.
Back in the fall of 2014, Hawaiian waters experienced temperatures up to 86°F. This very warm water resulted in a major coral bleaching event statewide. Since that time, water temperatures have been in a more normal range and the coral has stabilized and even shown signs of recovery in places.
In August of this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a warning that another major bleaching event was likely to happen this fall. Last month, NOAA reported that bleaching was already occurring. And I’ve noticed that the water does seem warmer, sometimes disturbingly so.
Because of the bleaching threat, I’ve been looking at the coral when I go snorkeling. There are a few very white patches, but by and large it doesn’t look too bad. This patch of purple coral still looked quite healthy and was host to a saddle wrasse (lower photo) and three unidentified fish (above).
A cleaner wrasse performs its service on a whitebar surgeonfish. Cleaner wrasse establish stations where other fish can visit to be cleaned of mucus and parasites.
When I’m snorkeling, I enjoy visiting these stations to see what’s going on and which fish are availing themselves of the services offered. Some of these fish are predators who, in other circumstances, might be expected to make a meal of a cleaner wrasse. But because of the beneficial service they offer, cleaner wrasse get a free pass with predators.