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Hawaii’s State Fish – Humuhumunukunukuapua’a

Every Maui snorkel experience is complete when the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a shows up! This long, sometimes intimidating word is actually easy to pronounce (“who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah”) and is the name for Hawaii’s state fish, recognizable by its blue mouth and yellow triangle.

In 1985 the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (humuhumu for short) was assigned as the official state fish of Hawai’i on a five year trial basis. Five years later in 1990 there was no action taken either way and it was forgotten about. In 2006 the Humuhumu was reinstated and permanently named Hawaii’s state fish.

This special fish is also referred to as the rectangular triggerfish, or Hawaiian triggerfish. It has a large, stout dorsal spine that can be locked into place in an upright position, allowing the fish to wedge itself into crevices to stay safe from predators. Oddly enough, the Humuhumu’s other defense mechanism is to make grunting noises that sound like a pig when fleeing from predators, which could be a warning call for other nearby triggerfish.

The grunting sound is how the Humuhumu gets its name. In Hawaiian, the long name means “fish that snorts like a pig” or “fish with a pig snout”. It is because of the unique shape of the snout and the closeness of the fish’s teeth that makes this grunting sound possible. The mouth is very wide and the space inside is full of air, which allows for the making of the sound.

In addition, the air is used to blow jets of water from its mouth. These jets uncover organisms in the sand that may be eaten. Triggerfish are often seen spitting sand out of their mouths with the intention of sifting through the material in search these edible organisms.

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Humuhumu is the Hawaiian folklore story behind it. The story goes like this…

“A long time ago on the Island of Oahu, lived a powerful king whose son was named Kama Pua’a. This child was difficult, to say the least. He was always chasing away his father’s livestock and tearing up the royal taro patches. His father swore that if he ever caught him, he would kill him. To save himself, Kama Pua’a fled Oahu and moved to Maui and married Madame Pele, the fiery goddess. They were in love and soon had a son.

A sad event occurred; the son died. Madame Pele, as fiery as she was, went into a rage and started chasing Kama Pua’a. To escape, he started running down the slopes of Haleakala, towards the sea. When he did this, he turned into a giant hog. With Madame Pele gaining, Kama Pua’a called to his grandmother on Oahu, ‘Grandma, Grandma,what should I do?’

His grandmother answered his call, ‘Leap into the ocean and you shall save yourself.’ When he got to the bottom at Pa’uwela, he leaped into the ocean and changed into a fish. This ended his emotional experience with Madame Pele. Thus Pa’uwela, which means ‘calming of emotions’, was named. The fish that Kama Pua’a turned into was a Humuhumunukunukuapua’a; a fish with a pig snout. And today,that fish is the Hawaiian state fish.”

Mahalo (thank you) for joining us to learn about the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a! We look forward to snorkeling with you and introducing you to this magical creature…

Much Aloha,
Maui Snorkel Tours Team