Whitemouth Moray Eel

Gymnothorax meleagris

Morays are one of the most easily observed in the Hawaiian reefs. They watch the underwater world swim by as they peek out from the coral. Most of them display their needle-sharp teeth while rhythmically opening and closing their mouths. With each gulp, their necks swell and pulse. Although this appear threatening, they are actually breathing by pumping water over their gills. Some morays emerge in the late afternoon or twilight to hunt, and may enter tidepools or slither across wet rocks. Moray tend to be hidden within the recesses of the reef where most species spend most of their lives.

Although they are known for their sharp teeth and nasty disposition, if they are left alone, they will pose no threat, but it would be unwise to stick your hand in a hole that may contain an eel. Some species are hand fed by divers, and may become tame enough to be handled or stroked, Do not do this if you do not know your eels, because some are friendlier than others! There are over 40 species of eels in Hawai'i.

The Whitemouth Moray Eel may be the most commonly seen moray in Hawaiʻi. It is brown and covered with white dots. The inner mouth is completely bright white. As a threat display, they hold their mouths wide open, which make them easy to identify. Their species name means "guineafowl" or "spotted. The Hawaiian name pūhi-ʻōniʻo may refer to this species. They grow up to 3.5 feet.