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Book Review:

Shore Fishes of Hawai'i

1996, Natural World Press

John E. Randall

ISBN 0-939560-22-4

216 pages, suggested retail $14.95

Bob Fenner  

For the scientific study of fishes, ichthyology, there are few in the history of our species that has endeavored so long, with as much success as John Randall. To his credit are some 485 academic papers and popular works on tropical fishes. Alone and with other investigators he has described some 17 new genera and 370 species, 35 of them from the Hawaiian Islands.

As a chronicler, collector and critical reviewer of such works, I get to handle most of the mainstream printed literature in the field. There are a few other worthwhile field guides on the natural history of Hawai'i; this is the best on her fishes. Compared with other field books covering or encompassing Hawaiian fishes this is my favorite for quality of photography and publishing, completeness of coverage and accuracy.

What's in it for you? Identification certainly; great pictures showing wild conditions, color and habitat; but so much more. This work is aimed at underwater naturalists (divers, snorkelers, photographers) and aquarists. There is a wealth of insights offered concerning temperament/suitability for captive use, foods and feeding, and reproductive et al. behavior.


Shore Fishes of Hawai'i details all of the shallow, near shore fishes, 99 families, 342 species; most accompanied by a photograph taken in the wild. Text is the familiar science-writing format, with the common, Hawaiian, and scientific names, Describer & date; species identification information, and photograph(s) of the family's most prominent Hawaiian members.

The Introduction briefly touches on biogeography and conservation of the area.

Some Interesting Bits:

Ever wonder why you can get some Indo-Pacific, even Indian Ocean fishes out of Hawaii (Naso lituratus, Acanthurus achilles, Ctenochaetus striatus), but not others? (Ctenochaetus hawaiiensis, Chaetodon fremblii, C. tinkeri)? Dr. Randall offers a lucid explanation of why so many fish groups are outright missing from these shores: hydrographic isolation; currents don't come there in time that would deliver pelagic planktonic eggs and young. Consequently Hawaiian in-shore fishes display the highest degree of endemism known; some 24.3% of our favorite forms of aquatic life are only found there.

Quick name the families of fishes in Hawaii with the most number of species. Hey, no peeking. Number one is the wrasses, Labridae, with 43 species; numero dos are the puhi, or morays (Family Muraenidae) with 38; and the worlds largest family of fishes, the gobies (Gobiidae) with some 1,875 described species, comes in third with 28 Hawaiian marine species.

Pros and Cons:

Physically, this Natural World Press is a fine product; nice solid paper and printing, good photo reproduction. Other nice touches include a checklist in the from alphabetically by family and then species so the underwater observer may easily record what, when and where they've seen which fishes. The glossary and index (with highlighted Hawaiian names) are well done as well.

I appreciate Dr. Randall's call for more coastline set aside as "marine parks" (MLCD, Marine Life Conservation Districts); as there are presently only three tiny places where commercial fishing and collecting are specifically disallowed. Thank goodness, a good part of the coastal windward sides of the islands are virtually unfishable much of the year. Still, the point is made; fishes (and other wildlife) must need be granted time and habitat to achieve full sexual maturation and size to preserve and optimize genotype... and for human appreciation.

A big plus of Shore Fishes of Hawai'i are the photographic images depicting size and sexual differences, especially for some groups of fishes. Ever wonder which species of rock/scorpionfish (Scorpaenidae) you just about put your hand down on? What the dickens type of frogfish, or which parrotfish, in what phase of sexual and growth expression you saw? You need this book's images.

On the negative side; where is a map of the Hawaiian chains top 7 or 100+ total islands and the oft-mentioned Johnston Island? This would greatly help put currents and isolation points in perspective. And what about a bibliography, a list of agencies in the interest, web-sites for the same, even a "plug" for the Bernice P. Bishop Museum and Aquarium (where Randall is the Senior Ichthyologist)? Incredibly, none is offered!

Not to be too picky, but just so everyone knows I'm watching, there is a math error on p. 24. I can believe that some stingrays attain a weight of 140 pounds but this is not the same as 340 kg (someone should have divided, not multiplied).

My Overall Opinion:

This handbook should be standard equipment for divers, marine fish collectors, industry livestock dealers, retailers and hobbyist who delve into the 50th states marines. The suggested $15.00 is easily made up several-fold in knowledge and inspiration. I will lay you odds that if you pick up and look through a copy, you will end up purchasing it.

Thanks to: Robert Stern and son Eric, Sea Dwelling Creatures Inc., Distributors/Wholesalers of marine fishes, invertebrates and aquarium supplies for supplying me with a copy of Shore Fishes of Hawai'i for review. Dealers can reach these folks can be at 12583 Crenshaw Blvd., Hawthorne, CA 90250; Tel 310-676-9697, Fax 310-676-9699.


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