Meet palani the Eyestripe Surgeonfish

  • Terry Lilley / Contributed photo

    Palani the Eyestripe Surgeonfish

This large beautiful Hawaiian reef fish grows up to 20-inches long and is often confused with several other large surgeonfish like the Yellowfin and Ringtail. The best way to tell them apart is by their bright white scalpel at the base of their tail of which you do not want to get near!

The other large surgeonfish species have a dark scalpel but all of them can give you a deep cut that could require a visit to the emergency room! This group of fish are called surgeonfish because they can inflict a deep cut like a surgeons scalpel. Palani has a bright yellow stripe through its eye but the Yellowfin and Ringtail Surgeonfish also have a yellow eye stripe but it is usually dull in color.

You often see these fish in schools of five to 10 or just cruising the bottom by themselves looking for food. They feed on algae and are often seen with other algae eaters like the Convict Tang (manini).

These fish are all very important to the health of the coral reef as they eat algae that competes with the coral for space on the reef. The more algae they eat, the more coral can grow!

Palani in Hawaiian means “stinky”. If you were to spear one and try to cook it you would know why. Personally I do not know why anyone would want to eat one but many people do but may have to pinch their nose shut while cooking it! The name palani is also sometime used in reference to people who may be an “outcast” from society.

Sometimes the male palani will fight over territory and swim next to each other and try to cut their rival with their sharp scalpel. I have never seen them successfully harm each other so it may be more of a posturing bluff then a real fight but it is fun to watch as they look like they are doing a romantic dance with each other! The palani tango.

You can see palani in action on my educational web page at in my movie The Worlds Guide to Hawaiian Reef Fish and also follow my daily marine life post on my Instagram at terry.lilley

You can also have your kids come snorkel with us and palani in our nonprofit marine science coral reef kids camp at

Aloha from under the surf.


Terry Lilley, marine biologist, Hanalei,,, All Photographs © 2016 Terry Lilly

  1. Matt White October 29, 2019 10:15 am Reply

    Thank you for writing these. They are really educational!

  2. harry oyama October 30, 2019 5:53 pm Reply

    You have to know how to clean the Palani and not get the guts on the meat. When done, put the fish in the refrig for a whole day, then rub it down with lemon juice and throw it on the fire grill. When its done, the meat will peel of the sand paper like skin.

    The brave ones will just throw it on the fire and eat it houna (stink) and all. A couple beers will make it more tasty, besides, some guys like stink punani and some don’t.

    And some of the Cro magnuen breed, likes up on a blood month cycle as well. One sniff and that’s enough to bring out the animal.

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