Little fish with big name regains title

Thanks in part to a campaign from O‘ahu school children, the state Legislature passed a bill this week re-anointing the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a as the state fish of Hawai‘i.

While the snub-nosed trigger fish occur readily throughout the islands, it is not endemic to Hawai‘i, said Don Heacock, an aquatic biologist in Kaua‘i for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

“It’s found in 48 countries,” he said, citing several texts.

In fact, the little fish occurs from Australia to the East Indies and the African coast of the Red Sea.

Nevertheless, the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a has remained popular in Hawaiian culture, thanks in large part to a catchy ditty written by Bill Cogswell, Tommy Harrison and Johnny Noble in 1933 called “My Little Glass Shack in Kealakekua Hawaii.”

“I want to go back to my little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawai`i, where the humuhumunukunukuapua‘a go swimming by,” the lyrics say.

The fish’s name means, literally, “pig-nosed trigger fish that grunts like a pig,” Heacock said. “If you pick it up, it grunts like a pig.”

The omnivorous fish live on the outside of shallow-water coral reefs, eating little crabs, shrimp and algae.

Heacock said there was a strong push from school children in Waimea and Hanalei to name the ‘o‘opunakea — a fresh-water fish that the natives so revered they named a god after it — the state fish, but in the end the little fish with the big name earned the biggest title of all.

• Ford Gunter, staff writer, may be reached at fgunter@kauaipubco.com, or 245-3681 (ext. 251).

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