Loving the Fantail File Fish of Hawaii

Written by on June 10, 2015 in Coral Reefs, Fish, Marine Life

There is no better feeling when snorkeling than to see a species of fish or coral that is endemic to the area that you’re in. When that happens, you know that you may never get to see that species again unless you’re a regular snorkeler or diver in the area. It’s one of those things that you can talk about for a long time. Be warned, though, only fellow ocean, snorkel, and dive geeks may find any interest in the story.

Photo Credit:  Ken Muise May 2015 at Kaiona Beach Park, Oahu.

Photo Credit: Ken Muise May 2015 at Kaiona Beach Park, Oahu.

The first time I saw a fantail filefish was at Hanauma Bay on Oahu, a popular snorkeling location. The orange fantail filefish is endemic to Hawaii and it’s a special treat to swim and be among one. I had been snorkeling for about 6 months at the time that this happened and I knew immediately that it was a fish that I had never seen before.

The Hawaiian fantail is a beautiful fish, really. Golden colored with dark, leopard-like spots down its side. Its characteristic is the bright orange tail fin that displays like an old fashioned hand-fan and resembles a peacock’s tail feathers. The best part, for me anyways, is that fleshy “horn” that sits right on top of its head, between the eyes.

Imagine coming up, over a reef and through your snorkel mask, you see this bright orange fish, with fantail displayed, hovering in between coral spurs. They are peaceful fish and, in my experience, won’t stay around long for photos and videos to be taken. They quickly retreat to the safety of a coral hole. These are considered a “rare” see when diving or snorkeling in Hawaii and that makes it even more of a special occasion.

Much of the information that you find online about these fish is from aquarium sites. Just so there is no confusion; I am totally against taking Hawaiian reef fish and selling them out. Mainly because they won’t live for more than a year after being taken and some species like the Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse won’t even eat in captivity and dies within 30 days of being capture. However, the information that you find in other locations on the internet says that these are peaceful fish, non-aggressive when in the wild and will grow to 7″. In aquaria, though, they tend to be a bit nippy with fins of other species which is another reason to just leave them in their natural habitat.

Photo Credit:  Ken Muise May 2015 at Kaiona Beach Park, Oahu.

Photo Credit: Ken Muise May 2015 at Kaiona Beach Park, Oahu.

The mating ritual of the Hawaiian fantail filefish is another great thing about these fish. This is truly when you get to see the tail and all the colors of this species at its brightest.

The next time you are snorkeling or diving, take the time to note the fish that you’re seeing and photographing. Later on, go and do some research on the particulars and characteristics of the fish that you saw. In doing so you just may find some added appreciation for the wonder of marine nature and wildlife.

About the Author: Ken Muise is an active-duty Soldier currently stationed in Hawaii. He runs a snorkel gear review business online and will not stay out of the water…much to the chagrin of those who want to do other stuff rather than snorkel.

Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.

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