Friday, January 22, 2016

The Humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a

If you enjoy snorkeling around Hawaii's reefs, you have probably encountered the state fish of Hawaii, the humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a also known as the wedgetail triggerfish (formerly known as the reef or Picasso triggerfish) or Rhinecanthus rectangulus .  The name is sometimes said to be longer than the actual fish!  The Hawaiian word "humuhumu" means "to stitch together", perhaps relating to their geometric color patterns (1), while "nuku" means nose and "puaa" means pig, referring to their trademark pig-like snout.  Thanks to the larger than average distance between their eyes and mouth, they are fit to feed on spiny invertebrates such as sea urchins without being hurt.  The grunting sounds they create while feeding (2) or threatened resemble pigs as they they blow jets of water out of their mouths into sand to locate tiny invertebrates such as shrimps and crabs.

Reef Triggerfish locking into a crevice.

Their most distinguished feature is a double spine, or "trigger", which they can extend to lock themselves into crevices keeping them safe from predators.  Known for his studies on reef fish ecology, Dr. E.S. Hobson found that their main survival technique relies on not just their trigger, but on other reef fishes as well.  When large schools of fishes enter the area, the reef triggerfish will discretely crawl out of its crevice and not be noticed by other predators (shark, eels, etc.)  This is a common behavior among reef fishes that find shelter in small spaces, such as slits and cracks in the reefs.  

 The humuhumu's compressed body facilitates a distinct type of swimming called Median Fin Propulsion (MPF).  While a majority of fishes swim by creating a wave-like movement along their entire body, MPF swimming only involves the movement of the dorsal and anal fins keeping the rest of their body rigid.  This unique technique allows for greater agility, stability for feeding, and flight from predators.

A professor at the Univeristy of Toronto, Rick Winterbottom, performed studies in 1974 which showed only two muscles in their fin rays.  Whereas, Dr. Laurie Sorenson, a researcher under Louisiana State University discovered that reef triggerfish have developed 2 more muscles in their fins in the last 40 years aloneHer main focus was on their movement abilities and anatomy, coming across this discovery while working with the Hawaii Pacific University.  The efficient MPF swimming and fast development of fin muscles demonstrate a quick evolutionary scale for a single species.
Reef Triggerfish with its trigger exposed.
Triggerfish become very communicative when threatened.  Bethany Coffey, a Ph.D. student in the Tricas lab is currently researching this type of behavior.  Upon speaking with her, she explained that  reef triggerfish are known to produce different types of sounds which can be a pectoral fin drumming noise or a clicking sound made with their jaws. Coffey is attempting to better understand the function of the different sounds these fish make.  To do this, she is comparing the vocal behaviors used in aggressive interactions like those with an undulated moray eel. It is possible that the different vocalization types convey different information depending on what the fish is interacting with, but the data has yet to be analyzed.

Coffey's work reflects a study done back in 1968 where researchers found that the pectoral fin drumming sounds were correlated with stressful interactions.  These sounds imparticular were created when the reef triggerfish was being held underwater or in the air, while confronting an intruder, or when being chased.  This may mean that humuhumus produce sounds to startle predators and the drumming action is another survival mechanism to compensate for them being a relatively slow-moving species. 

There's a lot more to the Humuhumu nukunuku ā pua‘a than just being Hawaii's state fish!  Hopefully, in the near future we will read about Coffey's results and gain a deeper understanding on their means of communication.

Written by Nikki Estrada and Casey Ching


Pers. Comm. Bethany Coffey

Hoover, John P. The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales, and Seals. Hono lulu: Mutual Pub., 2008. Print.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Super Coral

This speaks for itself.  HIMB's own Ruth Gates, Paul Jokiel, Cindy Hunter, and Beth Lenz share their views and discoveries of bleaching events occurring on a global scale.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Hikianalia Vessel Visit

"Founded on a legacy of Pacific Ocean exploration, the Polynesian Voyaging Society seeks to perpetuate the art and science of traditional Polynesian voyaging and the spirit of exploration through experiential educational programs that inspire students and their communities to respect and care for themselves, each other, and their natural and cultural environments."Polynesian Voyaging Society  

Polynesian Voyaging Society at HIMB; Photo taken by Jardine Gunn

On November 2nd, HIMB welcomed the Hawaiian voyaging canoe, the Hikianalia and its crew members from the Polynesian Voyaging Society. This unique 72-foot vessel combines a traditional Polynesian canoe model with added modern technologies, such as electric motors powered by photovoltaic panels and scientific collecting gear. The Hikianalia has travelled throughout the Hawaiian Islands to engage the community, share knowledge of traditional voyaging practices, and encourage local support of the Hōkūle’a's Malama Honua worldwide voyage, adding Moku o Lo'e to their itinerary.
The Crew at The Touch Tables of HIMB;
Photo Taken by Jardine Gunn

The visit gave us a chance to exchange knowledge, to learn and to think to the future. After docking, HIMB staff gave the Hikianalia crew a tour of our facility with an emphasis on our island's history and current research projects. In return, the Hikianalia crew provided HIMB staff and students the chance to board the vessel and learn about the capabilities of this incredible wa'a (vessel). Following the open house aboard the canoe, we had a talk story session where the crew shared their experiences. Jason Patterson, Apprentice Navigator on Hikianalia's 27-day voyage home from Tahiti to Honolulu, mentioned that often the modern navigational instruments they use, very intermittently will show an incorrect reading compared to what they have learned to accurately interpret from the stars and ocean currents. 


The Hikianalia crew were able to better experience Moku o Lo'e by staying on island for two nights. My fellow intern Nikki and I had the fortunate experience to do a bit of the reverse, and spend a night on the docked vessel. The night included peaceful thoughts laying under the sheet cover on the deck. Alongside the military plane landings from our neighboring marine core base and mother nature's dense rainfall pouring down on us, the view of the night sky that lit up Kaneohe Bay was overall a pleasurable atmosphere. Other CEP staff, like Casey Ching, sailed with the crew members from Kane'ohe Bay to Kahana Bay the following morning or back again a day later to make further lasting connections.

Hikianalia's recent series of outreach events connect with the community to inspire others to keep traditional Hawaiian knowledge and practice alive. Like Hōkūle’a, Hikianalia contributes to Hawaiian cultural preservation by navigating using only the stars, the sky, and the sea. PVS trains all crew members to use sailing techniques originally practiced by the Polynesian voyagers that first settled in the Hawaiian Islands. These wa'a promote the passing down of cultural knowledge to younger generations to use in addition to our readily accessible modern technological advances.

HIMB's director and renowned expert on Coral Reefs, Dr. Ruth Gates, had the chance to partake in Hōkūle’a's worldwide voyage as they passed the Great Barrier Reef. Gates calls the Malama Honua worldwide voyage, "The single greatest study even undertaken of the interaction between human beings and the ocean." The opportunity for the Polynesian Voyaging Society and our marine biologists at HIMB to come together was a meaningful experience. When it comes to valuing our oceans and marine resources, science and culture in Hawaii go hand in hand. At HIMB, we value our community partnerships and are thankful we could host the Polynesian Voyaging Society at Moku o Lo'e and help them fullfill their goals of contributing to education and protecting our Earth.

If anyone has anymore queries or if you would to keep track of these unique vessel's voyages, check out their website at for more information. At last check they were in Cape Town, having done the treacherous sail around the Horn of Africa! You can see our post from the last visit of the Hōkūle’a to HIMB in 2013 here: Polynesian Voyaging Society's Hōkūle‘a visits HIMB.
Mahalo and Aloha,
Jasmine Pike

Friday, November 6, 2015

SOEST Open House 2015

On October 23rd HIMB took part in the School of Ocean, Earth Science, and Technology (SOEST) Open House. Our goal was to educate school groups and families about how global warming and climate change effect Hawaii’s coral reefs as well as encourage the participants to think of ways that they could decrease their own carbon footprint.

For our ”Cool the Ocean” tent we built a structure that would hold a bucket above of a paddling pool that was painted to illustrate the earth. In the middle of the pool there was a chair where an unlucky parent, teacher, student or one of our staff would sit and wait in anticipation. The other members of the group received a short lesson about coral reefs, why they are so important and the impacts of global warming on them.  The group members were then asked questions relating to what they had just learned and had to come up with ways that they could help protect our coral reefs from the effects of global warming. If answered correctly they would be allowed to dump water on the person in the pool. This represented a coral in the ocean being cooled off and thus saved by the now attained awareness of the person.

We wanted to engage and educate the public in an interactive and entertaining way, and what better way to encourage everyone to learn about the effects of global warming on our coral reefs than to reward them with the opportunity to dump a bucket of water on someone! It’s safe to say that we had a great variety of participants.  While some kids were very eager to soak their mentors, others were keen on having water dumped on themselves! This fun activity attracted kids and families of ages varying from 5 to 18.

At the end of the 2-day event, everyone had learned something new and gained a deeper understanding about how global warming and climate change affect Hawaii’s coral reefs.  

Pictures kindly supplied by Palolo Elementary.


Nikki & Jardine

Monday, October 26, 2015

Research insights on recent shark attacks around Oahu

The Holland Lab at HIMB has observed the behavior of sharks frequenting Hawaii for many years.  Numerous tagging projects in Kane'ohe Bay have unveiled patterns in the migration of tiger sharks year to year.  Even though tiger sharks have been tracked traveling extensive distances in a short period of time, there are certain places they will repeatedly frequent during specific life stages.   In light of the recent increase in shark attacks around Oahu, this research lends a new perspective as to why these sharks have decided to make their presence known.

Dr. Carl Meyer, a researcher with the Holland Lab, addresses the current issue by associating recent attacks to tiger shark pupping season in October/November.  Tagging projects have demonstrated that female tiger sharks tend to migrate to the main Hawaiian Islands in the fall to give birth to their pups.  During this time, the female sharks ultimately starve because the energy expended nourishing their pups outweighs the energy they gain from feeding.  Dr. Meyer suggests recent attacks may have been the result of additional feedings by pregnant female tiger sharks desperate for sustenance and major increases in the amount of people using the ocean for recreational purposes.

Dr. Carl Meyer and fellow researchers tagging a tiger shark off the coast of Maui in October, 2013.

However, Dr. Meyer emphasizes that a higher risk of shark bites in the fall season was well known throughout traditional Hawaiian knowledge.  Shark attacks at this time of year are not an abnormal phenomenon.  Through oral tradition, the Hawaiians were aware of the fall pupping season and took added measures to stay safe when going into the water.  Ocean safety professionals now recommend that to reduce the risk, always swim or surf with another person and to avoid murky water. 

 You may read the full article here: 
Marine biologist Carl Meyer shares insights on recent tiger shark bites

If you would like a closer look at the tagging projects, the PacIOOS link below is an active tracking website detecting sharks currently being monitored: PacIOOS   


Friday, October 2, 2015

Have You Seen a Goby Before?

If you have ever gone out to tide pools and sand flats, and seen something dart off quickly, you’ve probably seen a goby.  The goby is a small fish, found both in fresh and salt-water ecosystems all over the world. Although they are small, they make up for it in numbers. These gobies belong to the family Goviidae and this family is the largest of the marine fish. Gobies tend to be bottom dwellers and are rarely seen due to their small stature; few grow larger than 6 inches in length while the smallest have a length of 2.5 inches.  When it comes to choosing a home, the gobies construct their own by using their large mouths to dig burrows and move rocks or live on the reef in crevices and small holes. Even if you can’t see them they are there. 

A peculiar species of goby found during an algae lab was the Petite Goby (Priolepis farcimen). This goby is endemic to Hawaii and the Johnston Islands and is the smallest Priolepis genus in Hawai’i. It can be distinguished from the other species by the dark bordered white lines that go across its face and upper body. In a survey called A Survey of the Small Reef Fishes of Kaneohe Bay, Oʻahu, Hawaiian Islands by David W. Greenfield, they looked at the more cryptic fish in the bay and found that the petite goby mostly in deep spur, groove, and shelf sites. But, they are found on open patch reefs, shallow spurs, and groove sites. Even though these fish are masters of not being seen, it does not mean that they are uncommon. You just need to look a bit harder.


Greenfield, David W., and John E. Randall. "The Marine Gobies of the Hawaiian
Islands." The California Academy of Science 55.27 (2004): 498-549. Web.

Greenfield, David W. "A survey of the Small Reed Fishes of Kaneohe Bay, Oʻahu, Hawaiian
Islands." Pacific Science 57.1 (2003): 45-76. Web.

Hoover, John P. The Ultimate Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fishes Sea Turtles, Dolphins, Whales,
and Seals. Honolulu: Mutual Pub. 2008. Print.