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Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa – The Fish That Grunts Like a Pig


Hawaiʻi Island is famous for its pristine waters and gorgeous, underwater sanctuaries, making it one of the most popular snorkeling destinations on earth. With its colorful array of sea creatures, it’s no wonder people from all over the world descend upon Kailua-Kona every year to get up-close-and-personal with some of Mother Nature’s most magnificent marine life.

One of the most beloved fish in the sea is Hawaiʻi’s official state fish—the humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa, or humu for short. This little creature, with a not so little name, became the state fish in 1985, after being chosen by a popular statewide vote. The colorful species, also known by their scientific classification, Rhinecanthus rectangulus, or “trigger fish,” can even be found in popular Hawaiian songs such as Don Ho’s “Little Grass Shack.”

It’s not uncommon to run into these brightly colored fish while snorkeling Hawaii’s reefs, as they are easily recognizable. Their unique traits, interesting behaviors, and fun to pronounce name, make it a favorite among visitors and snorkelers.

Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa, when loosely translated, means “fish that grunts like a pig,” because when distressed or threatened, the humu makes an audible grunting sound that can be heard underwater. It can also change colors to camouflage itself from predators.

Humu feed on small creatures like shrimp, sea urchin and other invertebrates. Solitary creatures, they are generally spotted swimming alone and tend to get aggressive when other humu invade their space.

Humu are native to Hawaii, however they can also be found in other central and south Pacific reef ecosystems. There is not a concern of the humu becoming endangered at this time, as they are not sought after for food by humans.

On your next vacation to Hawaiʻi Island, be sure to catch a snorkel tour and be on the look-out for the unique and interesting humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa. Better yet, also learn to pronounce its name and impress your friends with your stellar linguistic abilities! Have fun practicing the pronunciation—because once you have it, you have it!

Give it a try. Here’s how it’s done: “who-moo-who-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo-ah-pooah-ah.” If it’s still not rolling off the tip of your tongue, there are some great YouTube videos that will help you learn to pronounce it like a pro. The most important thing is to have fun!