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 Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover

past fishes of the month


Priacanthus meeki Jenkins, 1903


Priacanthus meeki Jenkins, 1903
      Bigeyes are red or silvery nocturnal fishes with deep, narrow (compressed) bodies, fine scales and upturned mouths. There are two shallow-water species in Hawai`i both quite similar in appearance. The Hawaiian Bigeye is endemic, while the Common Bigeye (Heteropriacanthus cruentatus), also called Glass-Eye or Goggle-Eye, occurs thoughout the Indo-Pacific. Both species typically remain under ledges and in caves by day, seemingly asleep. At this time they are are easy to approach and sometimes even easy to touch. At night they emerge to feed on planktonic animals high in the water column.
     Bigeyes are known in Hawaiian as `äweoweo, which means "glowing red." (The caldera atop Mauna Loa, which during eruptions often holds a lava lake, is named Moku`äweoweo.) The young are called `alalauä or`alauwä. Two other bigeye species are known from deep water, including the Giant `Äweoweo which attains 20 in. Although not often kept in aquariums, small bigeyes do well in captivity.
    Like many endemic fishes, Hawaiian Bigeyes are most common in the cooler Northwest Hawaiian Islands. The species name honors American ichthylogist Seth Eugene Meek (1859-1914). Large specimens attain about 12 inches.

     In most years the Common Bigeye is encountered much more frequently than the Hawaiian Bigeye, but this summer was different. At some dive sites around O`ahu and Kaua`i juveniles and subadults could be found in the hundreds under ledges and in caves. Fishermen off Ke`eia Pier in Kane`ohe Bay, and other spots as well, had little trouble filling their coolers with dozens of these of these small fish. In ancient Hawai`i, large numbers of red fish close to shore were said to foretell the death of a chief. According to contemporary newspapers, in late January of 1891 (about the time when King Kaläkaua died in San Francisco) a multitude of red fish were observed schooling in Pu`u Loa (Pearl Harbor). They were probably Hawaiian Bigeyes. The last time a big run of these fish was recorded was off Kaua`i in 1965.

Here are some ways to tell the two bigeye species apart:

1) In the Hawaiian Bigeye the back edge of the tail fin appears squared off or slightly concave while in the Common Bigeye it is slightly rounded.

2) The Hawaiian Bigeye often has a series of faint dark spots on its side along the lateral line, while the Common Bigeye often has some faint dark spots in the dorsal, anal and tail fins.

3) The Hawaiian Bigeye often schools, sometimes in the open outside its shelter. This behavior is not often seen with the Common Bigeye.

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  Text and photos copyright John P. Hoover