Surgeonfish are one of the most abundant and commonly found groups of reef fishes here in Hawai‘i.
They are named because they have sharp spines at the base of their tail or caudal fin,
resembling a scalpel used by surgeons. The spines can be venomous in some species, and are used for protection against predators or intruders. Generally surgeonfish are harmless to humans,
but can cause serious injury if you are careless in handling them.

Umaumalei (Orangespine unicornfish)

Palani (Whitespine surgeonfish)

Na‘ena‘e (Orangebar surgeonfish)

Most surgeonfish eat algae and are herbivores, with special mouths shaped for nibbling on seaweed or scraping the surfaces of rocks.

Surgeonfish play an important role within coral reefs because they graze on limu (algae) and keep it from growing out of control.

Algae are able to grow much faster than coral, and by maintaining this growth, it provides enough space on surfaces for coral settlement and growth. Being able to see a lot of herbivores and not TOO much limu is a sign of a healthy, balanced reef. Read more about our Sustainable Herbivore Management Plan here.

There are about 23 species of surgeonfish found in Hawai‘i, with manini (Convict Tang),
kole (Gold-Ring Surgeonfish), and kala (Unicornfish) as some of the most commonly known.

Click below to learn more about manini, kole, and kala.

Image credits- Cover photo and manini feeding: Bert Weeks, all surgeonfish species photos: Keoki Stender