The Hawaii Larval Fish (Culture + Imaging) Project

Most marine fish (and invertebrates) have a complex life cycle that involves a dispersing, planktonic larval stage - the time from egg hatching to juvenile development. These fish generally produce high numbers of eggs with larvae that develop in the open ocean for long periods (weeks to months).

Fish larvae are fascinating animals. They are rarely seen underwater; enormously diverse in their developmental patterns; and physiologically, morphologically, behaviorally and ecologically different from adult fishes. At hatching, they are generally microscopic (2-4 mm) and undeveloped, living off yolk, and incapable of feeding and swimming against currents. They learn to swim, hunt, and avoid predators as they mature through various stages. Many species are odd looking and have temporary specializations to survive in the pelagic environment such as freakishly large fins, heads, or eyes as well as intricate and/or elongated spines, body armor, and/or various pigment patterns. When larva are close to transitioning into juveniles, they typically use the sun, currents, and reef sounds and smells to find a new home. They make their final approach at night because the reef has many larval predators. Divers rarely encounter fish larvae. In fact, less than 10 percent of fish larvae have been described, much less photographed. Fish larvae are important in many aspects of aquaculture, fisheries conservation, and biology. 

This project utilizes wild egg collection, hatchery spawning and larval rearing techniques to study the reproductive patterns, culture requirements, and larval development of Hawaii marine fish.  Specific objectives are to:

  • Identify spawning areas and times.
  • Develop rearing protocols and evaluate the aquaculture potential for new species.
  • Show the diverse morphology, pigmentation and natural beauty of live marine larvae using photography. 

This blog provides an overview of the Hawaii fish families cultured to date (identified to the lowest taxonomic level).  


Frank Baensch

Reef Culture Technologies