Since we’re in Fakarava’s World Heritage Site, the south pass is a defacto reserve. The fish have lost their fear, and grown used to swimming with humans. This was the case with this beautiful Napoleon wrasse underneath Selavi, chomping on our food scraps.
It is remarkable to see this big fish so close, its facial markings are distinctly beautiful, its wandering eyes quizzical and captivating, not to mention its sheer bulk.
In other atolls, the Napoleon (or Humphead) wrasse is often seen from a distance, wary about swimmers, because many locals consider the fish a delicacy. They are a target, and they know it. This is despite the fact that ciguatera risk (a neuro-toxin present in tropical coral reefs) is actually quite high if eating this fish.
In fact, we once went to a BBQ with locals that were adamant the fish was safe to eat, and everyone got sick! Turns out it was a Napoleon. Never again!
If only this neuro-toxin risk were consistent enough to prevent people from eating it. The Napoleon is actually endangered, according to National Geographic because of over-fishing for seafood restaurants in Asia.
They are really important for the reef ecosystem, as they eat crown-of-thorns starfish (which if left unchecked, fiercely attacks coral reefs).
The Napoleon grows to nearly 6 feet long, weighing a massive 400lbs at its largest size… truly a magnificent fish.
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