Eagle rays are frequent visitors to Mahukona. We usually see adults, from four to six feet across, either singly, or more commonly in small groups. For the last week or so a single juvenile, less than two feet across, has been lingering in the area. I’ve read that eagle rays bear their live young in the fall, and that the young are about ten to twenty inches across at birth. Based on this, I’d guess that this individual was born last fall.
As I’ve mentioned previously, it’s fairly unusual for a snorkeler to see a fish attack and eat another fish, despite the abundance of both predator and prey species on the reefs. I was surprised the other day at Mahukona to stumble upon a large cigar wrasse with a small multiband butterflyfish in its mouth. The wrasse, having a rather poor grip on the tail end of the butterfly, was trying to press its prey into the reef for a better purchase. The butterfly was of course thrashing around attempting to free itself. It was kind of hard to follow through the screen of my little point and shoot camera, but somehow the butterfly managed to get loose and flee into a cranny in the reef. The wrasse tried in vain to follow. The wrasse swam around excitedly for a couple of minutes, trying to relocate its now-vanished prey, completely oblivious of me, and then it moved on. All this happened in about eight feet of water on the shallow reef that extends out from what the Mahukona regulars refer to as the first point.
The wrasse was likely the same female I’d seen in the same location in June, but, I think, not the same as I’d seen nearby in March. As I’d mentioned in a March post, I think this is an uncommon color variant, at least in Hawaii.
In addition to the event shown here, Marla and her sister Wendy have observed these fish preying on fish on two other occasions.
Some of the stranger fish we saw in Samoa:
Marla and I just returned from another of our semi-annual trips to Samoa. In addition to our usual week working in American Samoa we spent a week vacationing in independent (formerly Western) Samoa. We took a two-tank scuba dive from Dive Savaii located on the north coast of Savaii. This trip I took along a better camera than my usual underwater point and shoot. Unfortunately the camera battery (cheap third party variety—I’m such an idiot) gave out less than half way through the first dive. Managed a few nice shots anyway.
As I’ve alluded to previously, Samoa, being far less isolated than Hawaii, has more than eight hundred native reef fish species as opposed to fewer than four hundred in Hawaii. While Hawaii has its share of dazzlingly beautiful species, Samoa has many more, and many that are very different from anything encountered in Hawaii. Here are a few.
*I used Allen, Steen, Humann and DeLoach’s Reef Fish Identification: Tropical Pacific to identify the fish we saw in Samoa. This book is a fish geek’s dream, with 2,500 photos of over 2,000 species.