Pauline Fiene

(Longfin Spadefish)
Platax teira (Forsskal, 1775)
Family Ephippidae
    Now here's a find! On 15 Dec. 2003 Bo Lusher and Andy Schwanke at Mike Severns Diving, operating out of Kihei, Maui, saw this batfish at a rarely-dived site near Pu'u Ola'i at a depth of 85 ft. The sighting was unusual as batfish are not normally found in the Hawaiian Islands. The following day they went back to locate it again, but it wasn't there. The day after that, however, they saw it at the wreck of the St. Anthony about 3 miles away, where Pauline Fiene snapped this shot. Since Andy had photographed it the first day, it was easily identified as the same individual fish by the identical markings and tears in the fins.
     Longfin Batfish are schooling fish and this one was probably roving far and wide in search of others of its kind. Maui has a long coastline and the odds of the same dive boat finding the same wandering fish again must be almost as bad as the odds of the batfish finding a mate in Hawaii.
How did it get here? It might have been an aquarium release. (People buy them when they're small, and release them when they outgrow the tank. Of course no one should EVER release an alien species into our waters--but it does happen.) On the other hand, it is quite possible that these fish are arriving here naturally in very small numbers, either drifting in as larvae from elsewhere in the Pacific and growing to maturity, or by following floating objects such as lost fishing gear. A Longfin Batfish sighted at remote Johnston Atoll in March 2016, where the species has never before been recorded (see update below), supports natural or semi-natural dispersal.
      As further evidence, in April 1980 several Golden Batfish (Platax boersii) were seen under the cargo pier at Midway Atoll over 1000 miles northwest of the main Hawaiian Islands. One was speared and its identity confirmed. It would be almost impossible for the Midway specimens to have been aquarium releases. What probably happened was that some Golden Batfish larvae drifted into Hawaiian waters via the Kuroshio Current from Japan. A few grew to maturity, but did not succeed in reproducing here.
    If you see a batfish, how do you know if it's a Golden Batfish or a Longfin Batfish? The two are similar, but the Golden Batfish, as it's name implies, has a yellowish tinge overall. The best way to identify the Longfin is by the dark spot low on the body above the pelvic fin. There is often a narrow vertical dark mark just behind it. Both are clearly visible in this photo.

    By the way, many ichthyologists seem to prefer calling fishes of this genus "spadefishes" on the grounds that fishes of the somewhat obscure family Ogcocephalidae are also called "batfishes." However, the term "batfish" in reference to the large, common, and showy fishes of the genus Platax (family Ephippidae) is firmly entrenched among divers and aquarists. The problem is easily solved by calling the Ogcocephalid fishes "walking batfishes," as suggested by Scott Michael; this name is actually quite descriptive of these crawling bottom-dwellers.

Update April 2005: Longfin Batfish have recently been seen off O`ahu. One appeared at the wreck of the Sea Tiger, off Waikiki, and Brian Zgliczynski reports seeing several, possibly three, at the offshore moi cages (where moi, or threadfins, are raised commercially). The species may be here to stay. Bill Keen took the photo below of the Sea Tiger batfish. The photo was taken in February 2005 and kindly sent to me by late great Rill Partlow.

Longfin Batfish and Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse - Bill Keen - Sea Tiger wreck


Update June 2012: The Longfin Batfish below was photographed by Deron Verbeck on June 26, 2012, off Kona, Hawaii. Deron writes: "There was a large net floating just outside V V buoy. I of course had to jump in with all the fishing boats. It was following the net. V V buoy is about 3 miles off White sands in Kona. The net was floating by just outside of the buoy heading north."

Longfin Batfish off Kona, Hawaii - Deron Verbeck iamaquatic.com


Update March 2016: On March 28, 2016 I received this email from Kevin Donmoyer of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Our current crew deployed on Johnston Atoll sighted a longfin batfish (Platax teira) in the lagoon, off of the seaplane ramp. After some searching, this appears to be the only record of this species for Johnston. I was perusing the unusual or rare section of your website and saw your description of P. teira occurrences in Hawaii, with a mention of Midway and thought you might be interested in this sighting. I've attached a photo below."

Note: Judging by the long pectoral fins, this appears to be a young individual. Juveniles typically lack the diagnostic dark spot on the abdomen, typical of adult Longfin Batfish.

Longfin Batfish at Johnston Atoll - US Fish and Wildlife Service


Update October 1, 2016: Jay Schiesser writes:

Wanted to give you an update on the Longfin Batfish. I had heard it was hanging out at the St. Anthony wreck for a few weeks so decided to go check it out. Most of the pictures I have seen he was hanging in the wheelhouse. When I got out there today he was outside the wreck. I was able to get a few decent shots. It's a beautiful fish. Let me know if you have any questions.

Jay Schiesser
Maui Dreams Dive Company


Update October 20, 2016: Pauline Fiene of Mike Severns Diving posted a detailed blog article on the St. Anthony batfish.

Longfin Batfish Sightings from the St. Anthony Wreck on Maui


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Text and photos copyright by John P. Hoover