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Moray eels

Butterfly fish




Whitemouth moray eel. Whitemouth morays are among the most commonly seen eels in Hawaii.

Moray Eels in Hanauma Bay

Hawaii is home to 80 different species of moral eel, or Puhi as the native call them. They have small rounded gill openings and a dorsal fin that extends from just behind their head. Most varieties have no pectoral fins, which gives them a snakelike appearance. They have thick and scaleless skin and max out at a length of 5 feet long.

Moray eels have patterned bodies that help them camouflage. This camouflage even extends to inside their mouth. For example, the Dragon Moray eel’s skin is a collage of bright white, orange and black spots. The pattern may seem garish but it is perfect for hiding in the bumpy surface of the coral reef.

Moray eels live in rocky areas and hang out in holes, under rocks and in coral crevices waiting for prey to come close enough for capture. They seize and hold onto food with their strong jaws and razor sharp teeth. They feed primarily on fish, crustaceans and other small animals. They have toxic flesh that can cause sickness or death for animals that try to eat them.

Moral Eel Safety

Snorkeling is a relatively safe activity, but moray eels are one of the few threats to your snorkeling adventure. Moray eels will attack humans if they are disturbed and provoked. Their teeth are very sharp and can injure your fingers or limbs quite seriously. Since moray eels reside in rocky areas, make sure to keep your hands and fingers out of crevices and holes. If you must investigate a rocky area, do so with a stick or a probe.

However, moray eels rarely harm snorkelers. If you do see a moray eel, do not be surprised to see its mouth opening and closing. While this may see intimidating, they are only breathing. If they are left alone, they will keep to themselves. They are normally night stalkers and stay hidden during the day. Consider yourself lucky if you happen to see their protruding jaw sticking out from a rock or crevice.