Most states across the U.S. have an official fish. The only exceptions are Indiana, Arkansas, Kansas, and Ohio. Iowa doesn’t have an official species on the books, but it unofficially recognizes the channel catfish as its state fish.
It seems only natural that a region like Hawaii would have a state fish. The archipelago is one of the most iconic destinations for people who love marine life. It’s also home to five national parks that preserve thriving ecosystems on land and in the water. The state has chosen a fish that is just as unique in appearance and name as it is.
Hawaii’s state fish is the Rhinecanthus rectangulus, which is known locally as Humuhumunukuiuapua’a. Many refer to it as the humuhumu for short. Those of us who are not native Hawaiians may have an easier time referring to it as the reef triggerfish.
The reef triggerfish has a distinctive appearance with a blue top lip and brilliantly colored body. It has a second dorsal spine that locks its main spine in place. It uses this mechanism to protect itself from being pulled out of crevices by predators.
The average reef triggerfish measures up to 30 cm long and can be aggressive toward other creatures. They prefer solitude and can blow jets of water from their mouths to uncover benthic invertebrates buried in the seabed.
Reef triggerfish swim along the bottom of the coral reef, searching for snails, crustaceans, and algae to eat. Its high-set eyes allow it to keep a lookout for predators while its fins and body allow it to maneuver smoothly through the water.
The reef triggerfish was first designated as the official Hawaiian state fish in 1985. The decision was temporary, with an expiration date of just five years. It was no longer the official state fish in 1990.
It didn’t lose its title forever. The state governor was presented with bill HB1982 in April 2006 that would make the reef triggerfish the official species permanently. The bill was passed the following May and went into effect immediately.
Even before the government recognized the reef triggerfish, it was considered an unofficial symbol of the state. It was mentioned in the 1933 song My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii written by Johnny Noble, Bill Cogswell, and Tommy Harrison.
The Hawaiian name of the reef triggerfish has brought about a long-running joke that it is lengthier than the fish itself. The name humuhumunukunukuapuaa loosely translates to mean “triggerfish with a snout like a pig.” It’s an accurate moniker for the creature.
The state fish is just one of the many fascinating things to see when visiting Hawaii. Tour companies offer unique ways to view this and other marine life up close. Some will even take you deep under the waves in small submarines or on SCUBA adventures. Find out what’s available before your next trip to Hawaii.