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The Elusive Hinalea: A Glimpse into Hawaii’s Marine Wonder

hinalea the psychedelic wrasse - Photo By Reilly Fallon

hinalea the psychedelic wrasse – Photo By Reilly Fallon

In the vast and vibrant underwater world of Hawaii, there exists a small, yet remarkable fish known as the Hinalea, or the psychedelic wrasse. This fast-moving, seven-inch-long marvel is a unique spectacle in the Hawaiian marine ecosystem, distinguished not only by its speed and rarity but also by its fascinating life cycle and cultural significance.

A Rare Sight: The Hinalea in Motion

The Hinalea is a challenge for any diver to spot, let alone photograph. The juvenile females, with their striking red, black, and white coloration, are usually seen in shallow reefs, often in small groups of three or four. Their swift movements and darting nature make capturing a clear image nearly impossible. Meanwhile, the males, even rarer and more elusive, reside in deeper waters. Their bright orange and blue heads are a rare sight, making any encounter with them a memorable event.

A Transformational Journey: From Female to Male

Like many in the wrasse family, Hinalea are all born female. As they mature, a few undergo a remarkable transformation, converting into males for breeding purposes. This fascinating aspect of their life cycle was undoubtedly a source of confusion for ancient Hawaiian fishermen, who lacked the modern tools to observe these changes over time. Unlike today’s divers, who can witness these transformations, ancient Hawaiians had to rely on color patterns to differentiate between species, often leading to multiple names for the same fish.

Hinalea and Hawaiian Culture: A Deep Connection

The name “Hinalea” itself holds significant cultural importance. It not only refers to this group of fish but also symbolizes their connection to the cycles of the moon and coral spawning. In Hawaiian mythology, the goddess Hina is the guardian of the coral reef. The ancient Hawaiians had a profound understanding of their marine environment, believing that consuming specific Hinalea species could influence the gender of unborn children.

Diet and Survival: The Art of Evasion

The diet of the Hinalea mainly consists of small crustaceans. Their incredible speed and agility are crucial for their survival, helping them evade larger predators like the omilu or ulua. Observing a Hinalea in the wild is a dizzying experience, as they dart around at remarkable speeds.

Capturing the Hinalea: Patience and Strategy

Photographing or filming a Hinalea is a task that tests patience and creativity. After spending hours trying to get a clear shot of these quick-moving fish, a strategy emerged: mimicking their natural behavior. By carefully turning over small rocks on the sandy ocean floor – ensuring not to disturb the coral – I was able to attract the Hinalea, as they eagerly zoomed in to feed on the critters hidden underneath. This technique finally allowed for a successful video capture of this elusive and enchanting fish.


The Hinalea, or psychedelic wrasse, is more than just a fish; it’s a testament to the diverse and complex marine life of Hawaii and the deep cultural connections that bind the Hawaiian people to their environment. From its vibrant colors and rapid movements to its significant role in local folklore, the Hinalea remains a fascinating subject for divers, marine biologists, and cultural historians alike. It stands as a vibrant reminder of the wonders that lie beneath the waves of Hawaii’s oceans.