Meet pu‘ole the Triton trumpet shell

  • Terry Lilley / Contributed photo An example of pu‘ole, or Triton trumpet shell, in its natural environment.
  • Terry Lilley / Contributed photos

    Triton Trumpet Shell

This is the largest ocean snail in the entire Pacific Ocean and they are most often seen for sell in shell shops and not our on the reef snorkeling and diving.

These giant sea snails grow up to 20 inches long and are beautiful to look at in the shell shops but the live ones are actually covered in a purple-colored algae and they blend into the reef so divers go right on by without seeing them. If you find one and turn it over the underside has vivid colors and the mouth of the soft-bodied snail inside is fitted with a hard covering called an operculum to protect it from predators.

In Hawaiian culture these shells were used as blowing shells in important ceremonies and the common name is after the Greek sea God Triton, who controlled the waves by blowing on his trumpet!

This big shell is not only beautiful when cleaned up and the algae removed, but it is really super important for the health of the coral reefs here in Hawaii. Pu, ‘ole feeds on the poisonous Crown Of Thorns Starfish. This large starfish eats live coral. The Triton Trumpet keeps the Crown Of Thorns in check so it does not spread to rapidly and eat up all the coral.

Nature has created such a good balance of predator and prey and if you remove one of the predators then the entire reef system can be thrown out of balance.

Here in Hawaii these beautiful shells are protected from being collected off the reef and this is very important.

I have been to many different Pacific Islands where you can buy these beautiful shells and they have all been removed off of the reef and the Crown Of Thorns Starfish has eaten up most of the coral.

All of the coral reef creatures have an important part to play on the reef to keep it healthy so it is important to leave the live shells out on the reef where they help create harmony and balance in the marine ecosystem.

You can visit my web page at and see my underwater educational movies that feature this amazing and beautiful creature and also our nonprofit at Reef Guardians Hawaii where we have a school class to take kids out to study all of our unique Hawaiian marine life.


Terry Lilley, Marine Biologist, Hanalei,,, All Photographs © 2016 Terry Lilly


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