Naughty or nice? These six marine animals made the list


Head Aquarist Nadine Nagata shares her picks of who’s been naughty and nice at Maui Ocean Center. The barracuda’s easygoing demeanor overcomes its intimidating appearance, thus landing itself on Nadine’s nice list. -- Maui Ocean Center photo

As Christmas approaches, we’re making our list and checking it twice at the Maui Ocean Center. Through countless hours working with the marine animals under our care, our divers and aquarists experience the colorful personalities of each animal daily. In the spirit of the holidays, I’ve asked our Head Aquarist Nadine Nagata to share her personal picks of who’s been naughty and nice this year.

Every morning, Nadine and her team of aquarists clean and prepare the exhibits for opening hours. Once an aquarist finishes preparing the Desert Exhibit, a mischievous rockmover wrasse moves shells, rubble, rocks and corals throughout the day in search of food and to build sleeping mounds. Like a child who leaves his or her toys out after playtime, the wrasse leaves it to the aquarists to clean up and put things back where they belong.

The old adage “never judge a book by its cover” holds true for the great barracuda that resides in our Nursery Bay exhibit. While it may appear to have a scary face with its large, exposed teeth, the barracuda is a well-mannered, gentle giant. “It’s a graceful eater and extremely friendly,” said Nadine, “It’s like a buddy to us.” The barracuda’s easygoing demeanor overcomes its intimidating appearance, thus landing itself on Nadine’s nice list.

Nadine puts the giant trevallies, known as ulua, on the naughty list for their impatient and greedy behavior during feedings in the Open Ocean exhibit. Our divers have observed uluas bolt in to steal food right out of their neighboring sharks’ mouths. “Most people think sharks are the aggressive eaters, but in our experience, it’s the uluas,” said Nadine. It’s not uncommon for uluas to swipe food scraps from our divers’ hands, too.

Unlike the ulua, herbivorous fishes use their appetite to make our aquarists’ jobs easier. The gold ring surgeonfish, or kole in Hawaiian, is an aquarist favorite to have in multiple exhibits for their superb efficiency in grazing on algae. They, among other herbivores like the convict tangs, are welcomed help for the aquarists in keeping algae growth at bay throughout the aquarium.

Despite being only 5 months in age, one of our Hawaiian green sea turtles is seemingly in the “terrible twos” phase. Nadine has observed Turtle No. 2 occasionally roughhousing its siblings. One of its favorite moves is to sneak up from below and body bump its tank mate. Although it causes no physical harm, Turtle No. 2’s pestering behavior is likely to be more of an annoyance than anything dangerous. “Fortunately, we haven’t had to resort to timeouts yet,” Nadine added.

Lastly, Nadine puts the cleaner shrimp on the nice list for its selflessness in cleaning everything in its exhibit — including the aquarists. When an aquarist submerges his or her head into the Cup Coral Exhibit to clean, he or she is greeted by a pair of cleaner shrimp eager to work. These shrimp aren’t shy and typically crawl onto the aquarist’s face, cleaning any exposed skin around their dive goggles and wetsuit.

Whether the animals are naughty or nice, our team enjoys working and caring for an incredible family of Hawaiian marine animals. On behalf of the Maui Ocean Center staff and marine critters, we’d like to say thank you for your support in making 2018 a wonderful and memorable year. We wish you all a merry and safe holiday season — Mele Kalikimaka and Hau’oli Makahiki Hou!

* Evan Pascual is the marketing and public relations coordinator at Maui Ocean Center. “Ka Mo’olelo Moana,” or “the Ocean Story,” is a monthly column submitted by Maui Ocean Center staff members. The center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily in Maalaea. For more information, call 270-7000.