SCUBA TravelNapoleon Wrasse
Humphead wrasse, also known as napoleon or maori wrasse


Photo copyright Tim Nicholson.
Napoleon Wrasse (also known as Maori or Humphead Wrasse, Cheilinus undulatus,
Taken on Elphinstone, Egyptian Red Sea.

The Napoleon Wrasse is found throughout the warm waters of the Red Sea, the Indian and Pacific Oceans. An extremely large fish, it grows to over 2 m and weighs up to 191 kg (420 lb or 30 stone)!

Living between 1 and 60 m down, you can easily identify the fish by its large size and, in the case of a male, the prominent bulge on its forehead. Usually solitary, it feeds primarily on invertebrates and will even take toxic animals like crown-of-thorns starfish, boxfish or sea hares.

Like others in the wrasse family, the Napoleon Wrasse doesn't usually move its tail when swimming but flaps its pectoral fins. The species can live for at least 30 years, and becomes sexually mature at between 5 and 7 years.

Napoleon Wrasse are particularly vulnerable to fishing, as they grow slowly, mature late, and are uncommon. They are traded on the live reef food fish market, which serves luxury restaurants in, amongst others, Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. There is evidence of decline throughout its range, but particularly in Southeast Asia. Historical information shows Cheilinus undulatus was common in the 1950s and 1960s, and that declines have coincided with increased fishing activity.

To compound its problems, the species changes sex from female to male, which, if a fishery selects for larger fish, may make it even more vulnerable to over-fishing. It is estimated that less than 1% reach maturity as males.

Further Reading
Coral Reef Fishes, Indo-Pacific and Caribbean , by Ewald Lieske and Robert Myers, Harper Collins
The Underwater Photographer: Digital and Traditional Techniques, by by Martin Edge, Paperback, 536 pages (2009)
IUCN, The world conservation union.

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