Susan inflated her raft, then leapt aboard to do what she likes
best: sun bathing and riding the waves.

I sat down in the sandy shallows, slipped on my flippers and
backed into deeper water. Applying spit to the inside of my goggles
for haze proofing, I straightened my snorkel, popped it on and
plunged. The water was crystal clear and happily warm that day as I
got my bearings, swimming and adjusting my gear and eyes. I set my mental
compass to northwest, toward the exposed black coral rising from the
sand at the end of the beach, gradually working its way toward the
ocean finally submerging into deep water.  The transition from the
sandy ocean bottom, home to a plethora of Hawaiian fish, to the dark
reef with coral colors dazzled my eyes. The fish, though not in
multitudes, were varied and plentiful enough to really see well and
enjoy. Along comes Humuhumunukunukuapua’a, the Hawaiian state fish,
looking like a clown. A dark stripe crosses the silver sides and the
belly is accented with highlight stripes of sky blue and mustard
yellow. Sometimes called the Triggerfish, they have a diamond-shaped
body with armor-like scales.  Their fins are pale blue and they sport a
sharp, spike-like dorsal fin. Humuhumunukunukuapua’a means “fish with a

Hawaiian State Fish

pig’s nose” in Hawaiian, also called Picasso Triggerfish, or Reef
Triggerfish, a carnivorous species feeding primarily on small
invertebrates found in the sand.

A large, grapefruit-sized brown Box Fish approached, staring at me as
if seeking a hand-out. He looked like grandma’s pajamas decked out in
brown skin covered with small white polka dots, and getting no treat he
turned up his nose and swam a short distance away. Shore fish on Maui
are accustomed to humans feeding them by hand. To their misfortune
humans don’t realize that many fish can’t tell the difference between
a finger and a pretzel, usually resulting in painful injuries.
I dived down to about 12 feet deep or so, and yanked over a large
bottom boulder exposing all beneath, which delighted the Box Fish. He
charged in, picking away at whatever little things were hiding beneath
the rock before I moved it. From then on we were buddies and he
followed me everywhere hoping for another hand-out.  I assume that he
put out the word somehow because pretty soon other fish joined in. We all
swam along like a shark (me) with pilot fish lurking under, ready for
the slightest morsel.
Up ahead there were some rusty-red colored coral mounds. I
approached for a closer look, my pals backed away and swam off to the
side. The coral fingers were like brain coral, their color graduated
from a deep burgundy interior to a brighter red toward the tips.
Shafts of sunlight bounced and played about causing bright color
shifts in the coral.  Scattered about were dabs of ultramarine,
cerulean blue and burgundy highlighting the coral edges. I noticed a
kind of headless neck-looking thing, like a cut-off gray garden hose,
hanging off the coral… it opened and closed with regularity. With
translucent sides, one could look down inside the one inch diameter
end opening when it expanded and see grayish white tissue. Diving down
for a closer look an eye opened. A large eye. I got within three feet
and another eye opened and, then, that whole wing of the coral began
undulating. Instantly I knew I was looking at my first OCTOPUS in the
wild. And, incidentally, he was looking at me! Where is your camera
when you need it?!?

My quick sketch of an Octopus

My quick sketch of an Octopus

After returning to the surface for air, I paddled around above his
undulating tentacles allowing perhaps 6-8 feet of berth while I
studied every part of him. Octopi are pretty skittish, I didn’t want
to scare it off. As I circled about, its tentacles nervously rambled on
top of the coral as if trying to gain purchase. My every move was
observed but it was holding its ground. The head was about the size of
a soccer ball and the tentacles were curled but maybe 28 to 36 inches
long. Each time it moved it exposed the bright white creamy bottom
side of a tentacle or two and the tiny grey-ochre colored suction
cups. A truly beautiful creature that had colored himself perfectly to
emulate the color of the coral. Only its delicate softness and
breathing tube, gave it away. After 15 minutes of observation, I dived
down again and approached within three feet.  The octopus held its
ground and I thought I would see him swim off, but I was still
reluctant to reach out and touch him in my ignorance of what he might
do, and recalling the scene in The Alien where the creature attached
itself to the human’s face mask, I opted to let sleeping dogs lie and
returned for air. My pilot fish “buddies” by now had already moved on,
not wanting to have a face-off with something that could reach out
and have them for lunch. After a few moments the Octopus moved on down
the coral and I smugly said to myself, “Alright!”
Later at sundown I announced to my regular sunset-on-the-beach
group over cocktails that I had seen my very first Octopus! These are
were people who lived year-round at Valley Isle Resort and gathered on
the beach at the end of each day to discuss their daily adventures and
have a cocktail with the sunset and friends. Although a few of these
people are experienced scuba divers, I was surprised to discover they
had not yet seen an octopus that close-up for any length of time.
Usually octopus swim away or ink up the water to block your vision.
One of my friends, Dennis, said I was very lucky to have seen one so
close. He had seen experienced divers reach out in front of an octopus
as it started to swim away and catch the head in a hand. Octopus swim
by expelling water like a jet expels air, and if you stop the forward
thrust, they need to refill a bladder to again push forward and there
is time to study them close up. I’m not sure—even if I knew this—
swimming alone in a coral reef, if I would have been brave enough to
reach out and catch an octopus in my bare hands with ten feet of water
between me and my air supply!

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