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What Is the State Fish of Hawaii?

By Liz Thomas
Updated May 17, 2024
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The state fish of Hawaii is called the Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, also known as the rectangular trigger fish. In Polynesian, the name describes how the fish looks. This is a very intriguing fish, as it has several interesting beavioral actions, and can often be observed and identified while snorkeling.

The trigger fish was originally named the state fish of Hawaii in 1985. In 1990, the state law expired. The fish was not reinstated as the official fish of the state until 2006. It was chosen by the people of Hawaii through the use of a survey.

Over the years, there has been much controversy over this choice as a state symbol. While no one fish is found exclusively in the state, this particular variety is not one native to Hawaii. Supporters argue that this is an appropriate choice, since this fish is not used for food and not in danger of extinction through fishing.

The rectangular trigger fish is one one of the many types of trigger fish found in the ocean. It makes its home in the coral reefs found in the Pacific Ocean. One interesting fact is that the fish has two different spines, allowing it to squeeze into very small spots.

The long name, humuhumunukunukuaoua'a, describes how the fish looks in the Polynesian language. Humuhumu means small trigger fish, nukunuku means having a nose that looks like a small snout, and pua'a means pig. The easiest way to pronounce the name is "hoomoo hoomoo nookoo nookoo ah poo ah ah." The name of the fish, Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, is found in the refrain of the Hawaiian song "My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii", first published in 1933.

Many Hawaiians believe that the state fish of Hawaii can talk. This is because the fish sometimes sounds like it is grunting. Scientists believe that this unique sound is used by the fish as a protective measure, to ward off predators.

Snorkelers may also see the trigger fish spitting water and sand from the mouth. This is a way the fish finds any organisms or food hiding in the sand. Solitary, aggressive creatures, they are not typically found in large schools.

Identification can be made by looking for a distinct black triangle that is found at the bottom of the tail fin. The fish also has black bands along the side, with a yellow tinted upper body. There is also a small red band on the base of the side fins. It is possible to see the humuhumunikunukuapua'a fish when snorkeling.

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Discussion Comments
By wander — On Oct 27, 2011

@lonelygod - Whatever you don't put the rectangular trigger fish in a tank with other salt water fish if you want them alive. The trigger fish can be quite aggressive and is likely to kill a foreign species.

On that note, they actually do make good pets, though you will need a rather large tank to house one. My trigger fish are in a 100 gallon tank and I have three now. The key is to get them when they are small and to confuse the other trigger fish when you add a new one to the group. Just move the rocks around a bit and they won't even notice their newest member.

By lonelygod — On Oct 26, 2011

Does anyone know if the Hawaii state fish (humuhumunukunukuapuaa) would make a good addition to a salt water tank?

I currently have two other salt water tanks and keep a variety of fish. With what I have heard though about the solitary nature of the rectangular trigger fish I am thinking that if it is possible to own one, I may need to invest in a single tank for it.

Also, does anyone know how large the rectangular trigger fish gets? My first two salt water tanks are fairly large, but I don't want to have to add an additional gigantic tank to satisfy one addition to my collection.

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