The most popular state fishes are the largemouth bass, brook trout, and cutthroat trout. More unique state fishes include the muskellunge, northern pike, sailfish, and tarpon. But Hawaii’s state fish is, in many respects, the most unique of all.
As state fishes go, it is tiny, growing to just eight or nine inches in length. But it lives in no other state but Hawaii. It also boasts the most sensational name of any state fish—humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua’a.
It’s pronounced WHO-moo-WHO-moo-NEW-coo-NEW-coo-AH-poo-AH-ah.
It may be the only state fish whose common name is harder to say than its scientific name, Rhinecanthus rectangulus!
Humuhumu means “to fit pieces together.” This probably refers to the fish’s pretty blocks of colors which fit together like the pieces of a puzzle. Nukunuku-a-pua’a means “snout like a pig.” The fish makes strange grunting noises when taken out of the water. Therefore, some people thought its name meant “grunts like a pig.”
Fortunately, the humuhumu has a common name: rectangular triggerfish. This name is inspired by a trigger-shaped fin that it can raise on its back. A triggerfish can swim into a small crack and puff itself up, raising its spine and locking itself in place. This prevents other creatures from pulling it out and eating it.
The humuhumu-nukunuku-a-pua’a appears in early Hawaiian legends about Kamapua’a. Kamapua’a escaped from the volcano goddess Pele’s fire by turning into a humuhumu and swimming away. In another adventure, Kamapua’a saved some children from a shark by turning into a humuhumu.