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CRITTER: Meet puhi the Dwarf Moray Eel

I love to scuba dive by myself and go into underwater caves because there are so many special creatures there that the world rarely if ever sees, and when I am by myself no one scares the fish away!

I started shooting video of these critters because when I told my friends what I was seeing no one would believe me! After diving in a cave 80 feet deep off of O‘ahu’s North Shore I shot video of a very shy moray eel that was peeking out of a hole in a cave and its head was only the size of a quarter. It was yellow in color and had bright blue eyes with a black stripe through the eyes. Who the heck would believe this?

I was so excited to find this unusual moray eel that I brought several friends out diving to see it, and every time we went out the eel was gone! So I went out again by myself and the eel was there, but I had to hang out for 10 minutes for it to peek out of its crack. I went back a dozen times to visit this tiny eel, and it finally came out of its hiding place, and I was stunned that it was only about a foot long! I shot some great video, and every time I have brought other divers out to see this special eel it is gone! Thank goodness for an underwater movie camera or my friends would think I am nuts!

Turns out that my little moray eel friend is a dwarf moray eel that is the smallest eel here in Hawai‘i and rarely ever seen. No kidding, because if I had not shot video of it no one would believe me that it even exists! This tiny moray looks just like the monster moray eels we are used to seeing here in Hawai‘i, but is a dwarf. When you see them, just like other moray eels, they breathe through their mouth, so you always see their teeth. They need these sharp teeth to catch fish and eat them whole like a snake would do!

What does a dwarf moray eel eat? Where do they live? How do they breed? I have no idea, and this rare dwarf moray eel may have many cool secrets that no human has discovered yet, as it is one of the most secretive critters I have ever seen on Earth! Right in our own front yard!

The common name of the moray eels here in Hawai‘i is “puhi.” If you live near Lihu‘e on Kaua‘i there is a city named after our amazing moray eels! The town of Puhi, moray eel town!


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei. He is co-founder of Reef Guardians Hawai‘i, a nonprofit on a mission to provide education and resources to protect the coral reef. To donate to Reef Guardians Hawaii go to
Source: The Garden Island

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