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CRITTER: Meet ula papapa — the ridgeback slipper lobster

While scuba diving many years ago at 80 feet deep off Kaua‘i South Shore, we found a huge lobster just sitting on the bottom in the open that looked like a rock.

At first, I did not know what it was. And when I picked it up, I thought it was dead as it did not move and had its legs tucked under its hard shell. It looked like a common brown colored slipper lobster, but it was five times bigger and more than 15 inches long.

It was bright orange in color and very unusual looking. We did not have our camera underwater, as the housing was leaking so we brought this strange creature to the surface and took some pictures, and then let it go. The whole time the lobster never moved.

Kaua‘i is so isolated from the rest of the world that we have some unusual species of marine life that live here and diving is fun because you might find something that has never been seen before. When we got back home from our dive, I looked at the pictures of the giant lobster and identified it as ula papapa the ridgeback slipper lobster.

This rare species can grow up to 20 inches long and is the size of a watermelon. Apparently, it feeds on oysters that it slowly opens with its huge strong legs. After 2,000 scuba dives in Hawai‘i, this is only the second time I have seen one of these unusual lobsters.

Kaua‘i has more than 17 lobster species and I have found 15 of them so far, including the smallest slipper lobster on earth, called the locust slipper lobster, which is only 2 inches long. We found the tiny lobsters on a night dive out of Glass Beach.

I have studied lobsters all around the world and am doing a new movie about them. In Kaua‘i, we did some DNA testing on our large banded spiny lobsters and found out they are a different species than what occurs in the rest of Hawai‘i.

You can see most of the Hawaiian lobster species in action on my educational webpage at; and my new lobster movie will be up on my YouTube at Underwater2web.


Terry Lilley is a marine biologist living in Hanalei Kaua‘i and 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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