Kermadec Islands - images of fishes
By Dr J Floor Anthoni, 2002

The fishes of the Kermadec islands comprise a mix of species from the tropics (north), the temperates (south), the subtropics (west: Norfolk, Australia; east: Rapa and Easter Island), and endemic species (Kermadecs). About 2% of species are found only here, which makes these islands a precious hotspot of biodiversity. Due to their severe isolation, several species on the Kermadecs have evolved into unique forms, found only here.

Due to their isolation, several species on the Kermadecs have evolved into unique forms, found only here. Living in a very small spot, surrounded by a very large infertile ocean, poses special requirements, such as:

The Kermadecs are not a place to find fast growing fish such as dense schools of sardines, jack mackerels and other silver fish, and their predators. Neither can one expect organisms needing good densities of phytoplankton, such as mussels and scallops. The fish found here are mostly specialist feeders, filling a small niche in this environment. But it is surprising how many different species can be found in a single dive, and even more awesome how many of these are found only here and nowhere else in the world. To record them all, would require many dives. In this selection only the most common are shown.

The following overview illustrates which fishes one can recognise when diving the Kermadecs:

Note! for best printed results, set your page up with a left margin of 1.5cm (0.6") and right margin of 1.0cm (0.4")
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f031228: Mosaic moray in shagpile coral
f031228: A young Abbott's moray eel (Gymnothorax eurostus) peeps out from behind the shelter created by a shagpile coral. This coral cloaks the rocky bottom while leaving a living space for others. Young fish and eels enter through an opening like this, and keep it open, much like antarctic seals keep their breathing holes open.
On right: f031227: Grey moray eel (Gymnothorax nubilus)
f031227: Grey moray eel (Gymnothorax nubilus)
f031227: Grey moray eel (Gymnothorax nubilus) among shagpile coral.

f031203: Cook's scorpionfish (Scorpaena cookii)
f031203: A Cook's scorpionfish (Scorpaena cookii) is surprised by the photographer's light, looking much different than its surroundings. But by day, in the presence of blue light, it looks very much like the seaweeds around it.
Scorpionfish in blue daylight.
This is what the Cook's scorpionfish looks like by day. For this photo, the red and orange components of the light have been reduced, simulating daylight at 10m depth.

f030916: Toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus)
f030916: Toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus) and a mature Cook's scorpionfish (Scorpaena cookii) sitting side by side. The toadstool grouper actively seeks prey whereas the scorpionfish waits for prey to come near its mouth.
f031122: Toadstool groper (Trachypoma macracanthus)
f031122: Toadstool grouper (Trachypoma macracanthus) in its sleeping den. The fish is about to change colour, like pulling its pyjamas on.

f030934: yellow-banded perch
f030934: A young yellow banded perch (Acanthistius cinctus) hovers in perfect balance inside its cave. One usually finds several perches living together in the same cave. They form permanent bonds.
f031818: Goldribbon groper (Aulacocephalus temmincki)
f031818: Goldribbon grouper (Aulacocephalus temmincki). These groupers have a bright yellow line running on each side of their backs. The rest of the body changes colour at will. Here it is just changing from bright blue to black.

f031016: Northern kahawai (Arripis xylabion)
f031016: Northern kahawai (Arripis xylabion) in schooling formation. This kahawai is endemic to the Kermadecs and must have adapted to the paucity of pelagic food.
Detail of kahawai school
In this detail of previous image, it can be seen that the black patterns on the back of the northern kahawai differs from that of the coastal kahawai (Arripis trutta).(not shown)

f031023: Grey and yellow drummers
f031023: These yellow and grey drummers are the same species (Kyphosus bigibbus), but different colour forms. Colour morphs are common in plants, but much less common in animals. Feeding on mat forming algae, they try to avoid being bitten by the numerous mimic blennies.
f031032: Caramel drummers (Girella fimbriata) and grey drummers
f031032: Caramel drummers (Girella fimbriata) and grey drummers in stormy water with incessant and strong water movement. Notice the large barnacle formations with matting red algae on the rocks. This fish feeds on small algae, is very shy and endemic.

f031008: Grey knifefish (Bathystethus cultratus)
f031008: Grey knifefish (Bathystethus cultratus) swimming near the surface. These fish are usually found in the most turbulent of waters where suspended bubbles limit visibility. They feed on planktonic organisms. In the background a school of northern kahawai.
Close-up of grey knifefish
An enlargement of a section of previous picture shows its odd knife shape, which is perfect for catching organisms living under and on the surface of the sea. This fish is related to the blue maomao (Scorpis violaceus) found in New Zealand and here.

f031221: splendid hawkfish (Cirrhitus splendens)
f031221c: brushes on dorsal spines of hawkfish
f031221: The splendid hawkfish (Cirrhitus splendens) is conspicuous by night but well camouflaged by day. it lives in the shallows and is well equipped to hold on firmly to whatever unevenness the rocks may offer. It eats small crustaceans. Notice the brushes at the tips of its dorsal spines, characteristic of hawkfish.

f031129: Painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium)
Painted moki: details of tail markingsclose-up of painted moki face
f031129: The painted moki (Cheilodactylus ephippium) is rare in NZ but common at the Kermadecs and Norfolk Island. It is a very beautiful fish with spectacular markings and colours, particularly on its face and tail.

f031126: a collection of fishes
f031126: At dusk, before the dark of night, fishes of all kind come together to the few caves to find shelter for the night. On left a yellow banded perch. In the centre a notch-head marblefish (Aplodactylus etheridgii) and in the rear a few blackspot goatfish (Parupeneus spilurus) , with painted moki hovering above. Out of view above, five lionfish clinging to the wall. Notice how the marblefish is much more brown coloured than the NZ variety.
f030931: Kermadec scalyfin (Parma kermadecensis)
f030931: Kermadec scalyfin (Parma kermadecensis) or grey angelfish, resembles the black angelfish in shape but not colour. These fish are named scalyfins because their dorsal fin spines have scale patterns in between, which sets them apart from other groups of fishes.
Scalyfin detail

f032002: Lord Howe coralfish (Amphichaetodon howensis)
f032002: Lord Howe coralfish (Amphichaetodon howensis) are usually found in pairs. The pair bond lasts for life. These fish are well equipped to pick morsels of food like shrimps from the gaps in between coral heads.
f031207: Lord Howe coral fish in sleeping colours
f031207: This Lord Howe coralfish has just bedded down for the night and is in the process of changing it colours.

f031519: Striped boarfish (Evistias acutirostris)
f031519: Striped boarfish (Evistias acutirostris)
f031510: striped boarfish in cave
f031510: striped boarfish are often found in small groups in the shelter of caves like this. The roofs of such caves are often richly covered in sessile animal life like gorgonians, zoanthids, featherstars and so on. Notice the masked moki (Cheilodactylus sp.) in the bottom right corner.

f031526: Two-spot and Kermadec demoiselles
f031526: A large fruit bowl coral offers a vast hiding place underneath, happily accepted by these small damselfishes. They also sleep here, which explains why they cannot be found during night dives. The green ones with spots are young two-spot demoiselles (Chromis dispilus), whereas the yellow ones are Easter Island demoiselles (Chrisiptera rapanui). They have beautiful colours and white masks (not clearly visible).
f031526: Two-spot and Kermadec demoiselles
Detail of the bottom right corner.

f031311: adult demoiselles swarming a diver
f031311: In this photo one can see that two-spot demoiselles are very common in some places at the Kermadecs. They prefer promontories with nearby flowing water to catch their planktonic food.
f031313: Blue maomao and demoiselles
f031313: Blue maomao (Scorpis violaceus) are also common around promontories. Here a dense school of blue maomao and demoiselles accompanies a diver, out of sheer curiosity. Among the blue maomao, often blue knifefish are found, conspicuous by their golden backs (not shown).

f032008: Male orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus)
f032008: A male orange wrasse (Pseudolabrus luculentus) has changed his colour to bed down for the night. First he sees to it that all his females have burrowed themselves in the coarse sand. Then he follows suit.
f028614: male orange wrasse in business suit
f028614: This picture shows the male orange wrasse in daytime colours, when it has its business suit on. Compare it with his pyjamas shown left.

f031235: morse-code leatherjacket (Thamnaconus analis)
f031235: Female morse-code leatherjacket (Thamnaconus analis) found sleeping near a fruit bowl coral. Rather ill at ease, it has erected its dorsal spine which prevents predators from swallowing it. It derives its name from the dash-dot patterns on its sides, which it can turn off at will, but the blue belly button remains.
f031803: Kingfish (Seriola lalandii)
f031803: Kingfish (Seriola lalandi). The kingfish around the Kermadecs are few and far between, and they are slender, showing signs of starvation.

Two Galapagos sharks
Two Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis) patrolling the sandy bottom near Fishing Rock. These sharks are quite inquisitive, and come very near for a close look, which is rather frightening. They have been known to attack people, but here they are rather small and docile. They are typically 1.5m long, and very slender.
Galapagos shark
Frontal view of the Galapagos shark. The dark spot on its dorsal fin is not typical, but identifies this individual. Galapagos sharks are found over a large area in the southern Pacific Ocean. They resemble small bronze whaler sharks.
Both Photos: Lance Kennedy.

In the grey volcanic sand in between submerged boulders off Fishing Rock, lives a little fish which may remain undetected by the spying eyes of the scientist. It is a little sand-diver, but  no longer than 4cm, much smaller than its relative in NZ. What makes this animal undetectable is not only its sandy colour, but more so its phenomenal speed. For instance it makes the journey from being burrowed in the sand, to a point above it, 4-6 times its length, and back in less than 1/25th of a second! This is too fast for the untrained eye, and it shows as two blurred images on a camera running 'slow motion' at 50 frames per second.
They live here in their hundreds, and with some skill they can be herded into a single confined spot of sand, no larger than two hands, temporarily hiding four dozen of them. Fifty little fish, all staring at me, while I was unable to see any of them. Regrettably, I have not been able to take photographs due to rough conditions.