When you're snorkeling in Maui look for the "Humu-humu"—Hawaii's state fish!

Snorkeling with the Humuhumunukunukuāpua'a

We can't have entries about sea creatures and snorkeling in Maui without mentioning the Humuhumunukunukuāpua'a. Renowned as Hawaii's state fish, its name is one of the longest words in the Hawaiian language—it's often joked, "the name is longer than the fish!" Also known as the "Wedgetail Triggerfish," or humu-humu for short, their conspicuous geometric pattern makes them easy to recognize.  And fortunately, learning its Hawaiian name isn't as complicated as it looks. In fact, if you break the word into syllables and know what sounds the vowels make, it's actually one of those words that's fun to practice and inexplicably gratifying to say with once you've got it down!

There are two vowel sounds in the Hawaiian language you need to know, "u" sounds like the "oo" in "moo," and "a" sounds like "ah" in saw. So here's the word broken into syllables and easier pronunciation:

"hu-mu | hu-mu | nu-ku | nu-ku| ah-pu | ah-ah"

You'll also notice a bit of repetition which makes it easier to say and remember:  humu-humu... nuku-nuku... and ah-ah (at the end). Now throw in "ah-pu" right before the "ah-ah" and you've got it made!  The real trick is when you can say it five times fast!

The Humu-humu is very common in Maui's waters. They tend to be solitary creatures and a bit wary of snorkelers. In fact if they're guarding a nest of eggs, Wedgetail Triggerfish can be rather aggressive toward the unknowing snorkeler. We once had a humu charge directly at us with its dorsal fin raised—it was clear he meant business!  As with all snorkeling adventures and encounters with sea life, remember "you're the visitor" to their underwater world. Give creatures plenty of space and you'll be rewarded with the opportunity of seeing marine life interacting naturally in their home environment.

To learn more about Maui's sea creatures and snorkeling tips for Maui, be sure to bookmark our blog and check back often, or pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel:  The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

Bigfin Squid are intriguing creatures to see when you're snorkeling in Maui.

Snorkeling with Honolua's Bigfin Squid

If you're snorkeling the waters of Honolua Bay in Maui, keep an eye out for schools of Bigfin Squid. You'll sometimes find them in the shallows here, and seeing them just a few feet from your mask is a moment you won't forget.

Squid are intriguing to watch, you might call them natural entertainers. They'll typically hover as a group in front of you, leisurely changing color and shape in unison. They can put on a show for 10 minutes or more—seemingly as curious about you, as you are about them. Then in a flash, they'll disappear and you're left wondering where they could have gone in that "blink of an eye!" 

Squid are covered in specialized pigment cells which allow them to change color and create patterns on their skin. At times they can even appear iridescent or glow. Squid change colors for a variety of reasons. They can camouflage themselves from predators and prey, or use color as a means of communication. They are known to use complex courting displays to attract mates. Amazingly, male squid can display courtship patterns on one side of their body, while producing aggressive patterns on the other to discourage the competition! 

Squid and octopus are both members of the cephalapod class and share similarities as well as differences. Both can swim incredibly fast, squirt ink, and change color. Both creatures have eight legs, but squid have two additional tentacles they use to grab and eat prey. Octopus tend to live solitary lives and can be found in dens along the sea floor, while many squid live in groups and are found in the open ocean. So next time you're snorkeling at Honolua Bay in Maui, look for the resident Bigfin Squid, they're sure to entertain you.

For more about squid and other underwater creatures in Maui, check back often or pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel: The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

With their boxy shape and polka dots, stripebelly pufferfish look like cartoon characters of the sea!

Snorkeling with the "Stripebelly Pufferfish"

The chances of seeing a Stripebelly Pufferfish are pretty high when you're snorkeling in Maui.  Their chunky shape and polka-dots make them fun to spot and observe.  You'll typically find them meandering about coral reefs or even resting on the sandy sea floor appearing to take a snooze. The stripebelly is the largest pufferfish you'll see when you're snorkeling in Maui; reaching up to 19 inches in length—they're about the size of a small dog!  When pufferfish feel threatened, they can inflate by gulping water until they're nearly ball-shaped, making them difficult to be eaten by predators.  In all our snorkeling experiences we haven't seen a stripebelly reach these inflated proportions.  We keep a reasonable distance from them and always give wildlife their space.  As cartoon-like and harmless as puffers appear, their skin and some internal organs contain a very powerful neurotoxin.  According to John Hoover's book, "Hawaiian Reef Fishes," at least seven people in the Hawaiian islands have died from eating pufferfish; so not surprisingly, it's illegal for restaurants in Hawaii to serve them!  But no need to swim away if you see a stripebelly—just don’t make a meal of one! 

To learn more about Maui's sea creatures and snorkeling tips for Maui, bookmark our blog and pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel: The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

If you're observant, Day Octopuses are commonly seen in the reefs around Maui.

Snorkeling in Maui - The Incredible Octopus

Called the "Einstein of invertebrates" the octopus is a real treat to see when you're snorkeling in Maui. Boasting a large brain for its size, this sea creature makes good use of its smarts. It exhibits short and long-term memory skills, uses tools, and is a problem solver who learns by observation. In captivity, octopuses can be trained to solve multiple mazes, while in the wild they've been observed collecting coconut shells from the ocean floor and using them to hide from predators.

Octopuses are classified as Cephalopods, an amazing group of creatures that have inhabited the world's oceans for over 500 million years. After so much time, it's not surprising the octopus has developed all kinds of intriguing ways to adapt and survive. Most notably the octopus is a true master of disguise. With its body covered in millions of neurons, muscle fibers, and pigment cells, an octopus can change its color and texture to match its surroundings in an instant. Many predators (and snorkelers) swim right past them oblivious to their presence. When threatened, octopuses also have several weapons at their defense. Using their own jet propulsion, they can move through the water incredibly fast. They can also squirt a cloud of black ink obscuring their escape from predators.

If you want to see an octopus while snorkeling in Maui, you're in luck. The "Day Octopus" is the most common octopus in Hawaiian waters and can usually be found in and around Maui's near shore reefs—you just have to be observant! Snorkel slowly—very slowly—and carefully scan the rocks and coral reef. They often hide in plain sight blending with whatever surface they're resting upon. It's truly fascinating to watch an octopus zoom through the water like a streamlined bullet, then land on a surface and "turn themselves into a rock!"

To learn more about the "incredible octopus" or Maui's other amazing sea creatures, check back often and pick up a copy of our guidebook, Mask, Fins & Snorkel:  The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

Snorkeling in Maui with Eagle Rays

Snorkeling with Eagle and Manta Rays

If we could wish for one singular, out-of-this-world experience for visitors to Maui, it would be the chance to snorkel alongside a Manta or Eagle Ray. Rays are a spectacular sight and having one gracefully glide by as you're snorkeling is a moment you'll never forget!

Spotted Eagle Rays and Mantas are the most likely rays you'll see while snorkeling in Maui. They're classified as fish but don't have scales and like sharks (their close cousins), rays have skeletons made entirely of cartilage. It's not an everyday occurence to see them, so if you encounter one while snorkeling it's definitely your lucky day! 

Spotted Eagle Rays are easily recognized by their white polka-dotted top-sides and a broad snout resembling a duck bill. They are smaller than mantas and have a long whip-like tail with several venomous barbs near its base. Known to be shy and wary of humans, whenever we encounter them they always "fly by" in a hurry. We spotted the juvenile shown above timidly darting back and forth along the shallows of Maluaka Beach.  Spotted Eagle Rays are not aggressive creatures to fear, but their barbs can inflict serious pain if touched, so like all sea creatures give them plenty of space.

Manta Rays are the largest type of ray, outsized only by sharks and whales in the ocean. With wingspans in the 8-12 feet range around Maui, the first time you see one, it's hard not to be awe-struck. Looking a bit like an enormous flying bat with a cavernous, gaping mouth, it's a sure bet you've never seen anything like it in a lifetime on land—let alone gliding next to you in the water! If you didn't know anything about mantas, their size alone can be intimidating. But unlike their cousin (the shark), mantas are extremely gentle creatures. They do not have venomous barbs and despite their large mouth, they are filter feeders who dine on zooplankton and small fish. So if you're fortunate to have a manta gracefully pass by as you're snorkeling, relax and take pleasure in the moment, it's not often you'll enjoy such a unique privilege.

On rare occasions, Mantas and Eagle Rays are known to breach the water's surface, flying completely out of the water and sometimes somersaulting or cart-wheeling through the air. It's not known why rays take these unusual acrobatic flights. Speculation runs from courtship rituals to pure entertainment. What ever the reason, it's a spectacle to behold! Check out this amazing BBC video of the phenomena, "flights" begin at 50 seconds:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz6zOyZpYTY

To learn more about Maui's sea creatures and snorkeling tips for Maui, be sure to bookmark our blog and pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel:  The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

White Mouth Moray Eels are commonly seen off the shores of Maui.

Snorkeling in Maui – Moray Eels

At first glance moray eels look pretty intimidating. You'll often find them poking their snake-like heads out of dark crevices—opening and closing their jaws and displaying a mouthful of teeth in a threatening manner. There's no need to rush off if you see one though, morays aren't typically aggressive unless they're being harrassed or fed. Simply give them space and enjoy the opportunity to observe these interesting creatures.

While they may not look like it, eels are actually fish. But unlike fish, morays eels don't have gill covers. This makes a big difference when it comes to breathing.  Fish breathe by opening and closing their gill covers to draw water across their gills, while morays have to constantly open and close their mouths to do the same thing. So while they may look menacing, morays are just doing "what morays have to do" in order to breathe.

So if you encounter eels while snorkeling in Maui don't be spooked—just enjoy. Their tendency to stay in one place makes them easy to photograph and observe. You may get lucky and see hunting behavior, but in that case your observation will be cut short, these amazing creatures can weave in and out of the coral in seconds.

For more about eels and other fascinating underwater creatures in Maui, check back often or pick up a copy of Mask, Fins & Snorkel: The Adventure Guide to Maui's Best Snorkeling!

A juvenile Green Sea Turtle rests among the coral, Makena, Maui.

Snorkeling with Sea Turtles in Maui

When it comes to snorkeling in Maui, high on the wish list of creatures to spot are turtles. In Maui, you'll often hear turtles called "Honu" (Ho Noo), the Hawaiian name for turtles. While these days we can fly to Hawaii in a few hours, Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are genetically distinct from other sea turtles because of Hawaii's remote location in the Pacific. By the early 1970s their numbers were in sharp decline, but protective laws enacted in 1978 have helped the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles to make quite a comeback. They are now frequently spotted throughout the near shore waters of Maui and other Hawaiian Islands as they forage for algae and seaweed around coral. Weighing-in at 200-500 pounds, sea turtles are likely the largest creature you'll spot while snorkeling in Maui, and seeing these gentle giants is a real treat!

Tips for seeing turtles while snorkeling in Maui: When not foraging for food, sea turtles like to rest on the ocean floor tucked just underneath the ledges of coral. Float or snorkel slowly along these areas and you're likely to spot them. If you're lucky, you may see several turtles at once. For the best chance to observe turtles interacting naturally in their environment, avoid crowding them. If they happen to swim near you, give them plenty of space and they'll be much more likely to hang around for awhile. Important to note, federal and state laws make it illegal to touch or harass sea turtles.

For more tips on snorkeling and seeing turtles, bookmark our blog and pick up a copy of our book, Mask, Fins & Snorkel:  The Adventure Guide to Maui’s Best Snorkeling. Happy Snorkeling. Happy Snorkeling!!!

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