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Humuhumunukunukuapuaa: Hawaii’s State Fish

Hawaii has a state bird (nene), a state dance (hula), a state sport (hee nalu or surfing) and a state gem (black coral), so it’s only fitting that it also has a state fish. But with so many varieties of tropical fish, it wasn’t easy to determine the right sea critter to represent Hawaii’s state fish.

The dilemma led to a competition of sorts to choose Hawaii’s state fish in 1984. Residents nominated many favored fish—some native, some not. People even dressed in fish costumes in the spirit of the contest. But it was when a halau hula (hula school) danced to the popular song, “Little Grass Shack,” that mentions the Picasso triggerfish, that Hawaii’s state fish was named.

Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, the fish’s Hawaiian name, means to “stitch pieces together” and “nose like a pig”—and if you take a look at its face and body, you’ll understand why. Some say, on the other hand, that when the fish gets defensive, it makes a sound like a pig’s snort.

What many might not know is that Hawaii’s state fish, a reef triggerfish, is a non native species. Several groups in the community have wondered why it was selected and those in support of native species, in fact, wrote to the State demanding that the decision be overturned. But they failed to (ahem) make waves.

The humuhumu (its nickname) was elected to a five-year term during the 1980s as Hawaii’s state fish but residents never seriously considered any other creature to take its place and so did not recognize the end of its time “in office.” Decades later, in 2006, state legislature renewed Hawaii’s state fish status and now the colorful marine creature is here to stay.

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