New Zealand Marine Animals
Scroll through the species below or click on the link to go directly to a specific animal.
- Blue Cod
- Blue Moki
- Conger Eel
- Kelp Fish
- King Fish
- Red Moki
- Yellow-eye Mullet
Names: Blue Cod (Parapercis colias) / Rawaru, Pakirikiri.
Habitats: Shallower water up to 150m.
Size: Up to 60cm, 1-3kg.
Feed: Small fish and crabs.
Special Features: Blue Cod can also change sex from female to male at any time during their lifespan.
Exclusive to New Zealand, Blue Cod reside in shallow waters up to 150m around rocky shorelines. Found all around New Zealand's coastline Blue Cod are more common around the South Island.
Larger Blue Cod are often more blue, while smaller Blue Cod can come in varying shades of blotchy brown. Incredibly pugnacious, they will also curiously approach aquarium divers to be hand-fed. Blue Cod are fished sustainably under New Zealand’s quota system, although they're becoming scarce in some parts of the country.
Names: Blue Moki (Latridopsis ciliaris).
Habitats: All depths.
Size: 60-80cm in length.
Feed: Crabs and crustaceans off the seabed.
Special Features: Large, thick lips with powerful teeth for crushing shells.
Blue Moki are native around New Zealand and can also be found off southeast Australia. Juveniles inhabit inshore waters, preferring rocky reefs while adults are most often found in offshore waters forming schools. Some solitary adults can be found on reefs.
Names: Conger Eel (Conger verreauxi).
Habitats: At all depths in the open sea.
Size: Up to 3m.
Feed: Hunts at night for small reef fish.
Special Features: Great at playing hide-and-seek!
A saltwater Conger Eel can be distinguished from a freshwater eel by its top jaw projecting beyond the lower jaw. The National Aquarium's Conger Eels have become incredibly friendly, although they're sometimes hard to find, as they love playing hide-and-seek!
Names: Hāpuka (Polyprion oxygeneios) / Hāpuku, Whapuku / Groper.
Habitats: Temperate / subtropical, 10-800m, often Rocky Coastal – pelagic when young, demersal when adults.
Size: 60-180cm, 25-100kg.
Feed: Fish, squid and crustaceans, Red Cod and Blue Cod, Hoki, crabs, and crayfish.
Special Features: Can live up to 60 years old!
Hāpuka, also known as Groper, is a gregarious, curious fish often found in rugged rocky coastal areas. The young are pelagic, meaning they inhabit mid-range waters. Hāpuka take 10–13 years to mature but can live up to 60 years old!
Adult Hāpuka are generally grey with silvery white underbellies, juveniles are usually blue in colour. Hāpuka have 10 dorsal spines running along their back, a rounded anal fin and a large, powerful, square tail. Its lower jaw protrudes from the top, and their very large eyes are adapted for hunting and inhabiting low-light conditions.
Juveniles are pelagic, switching to demersal (residing near to seabed) when they are about 50cm. They can be found in waters between 10m and 800m deep, but generally prefer waters deeper than 50m. They are usually found living in cracks, caverns, or caves when found in shallow waters.
The National Aquarium's Hāpuka exhibits were caught as pups off the Gwen Bee shipwreck ??? off Marine Parade in Hawke Bay. In over 60m of water, these Hāpuka were caught and brought up very slowly and carefully on a long-line. In order to survive in captivity, their air bladders were carefully pricked so they can survive in shallow water.
Names: Kahawai (Arripis trutta).
Habitats: Estuaries, bays, harbours and reefs.
Size: 40-50cm, 1-2.5kg.
Feed: Small schooling fish, crabs, worms.
Special Features: Kahawai gorge themselves then stop eating until their stomachs empty out.
Sometimes called sea trout or salmon, Kahawai are a surface, schooling fish. Juveniles are usually spotted with brown bars, adults are greenish blue above and silver below. They can live up to 26 (human) years old.
Kahawai typically weigh 1-2.5 kg but some have been known to reach a weight of 6kg. At the National Aquarium, Kahawai are always first in for a feed, stuffing themselves silly and even stealing food off other fish!
Names: Kelpfish (Chironemus microlepis).
Size: Up to 55cm.
Feed: Seaweed, kelp and plankton.
Special Features: They sit then swim, almost hopping along the seafloor.
Kelpfish camouflage is very good, which is useful for hanging out in seaweed and kelp beds! However, they're also very friendly, and can often be seen feeding close to the National Aquarium's divers.
Kelpfish can most often be found foraging amongst seaweed, kelp beds and rocky reefs. With their distinctive circuit board pattern, their name comes from the Greek 'cheir' meaning 'hands' and 'nema' meaning 'thread'. The Kelpfish is native to coastal Australia and New Zealand.
Names: Kingfish (Seriola lalandi).
Habitats: Pelagic schooling fish but also hunt in the shallows.
Size: 75cm-2.5m, 15-30kg but can reach up to 50kg!
Feed: Carnivores – baitfish, piper, garfish, squid, Octopus, Koheru and Kahawai.
Special Features: The King of the Ocean!
Kingfish are super-fast, streamlined carnivores with smooth yet scaly skin. Their large yellow caudal fin is small in surface area, which results in little turbulence giving them excellent power and extraordinary swimming abilities.
Dark green, with a white belly and a yellow stripe, Kingfish are abundant in Hawke Bay. And as the Kingfish is a fast swimming fish it needs a lot of water passing through its gills to keep it going, making it difficult to keep in captivity.
Divers have recorded Kingfish at depths ranging from shallow reefs and estuaries, to depths exceeding 50m. More often though, they prefer rocky reef structures and pinnacles with fast currents moving past them.
It usually takes a Kingfish up to 21 years to reach its full growth size of around 2.5m and they can weigh up to 50kgs. Female Kingfish take longer to grow than males, however they reach a greater overall length in the end.
Names: Piranha (Parika scaber).
Habitats: Shallow waters around New Zealand.
Size: Up to 30cm.
Feed: Small animals and algae scraped off rocks.
Special Features: Can swim forwards or backwards!
A cheeky, inquisitive fish, the Leatherjacket will nip at divers with their sharp teeth. Freshly caught, they're distinctly yellow but this colour fades in captivity. They voraciously devour small fish and shrimp.
The Leatherjacket gets its name because its skin feels like sandpaper and looks like a classic leather jacket. When they want to rest, they find secluded holes or crevices and lock themselves inside. They also fight amongst themselves by using their extended trigger and anal fins.
Names: Octopus (Octopus maorum).
Habitats: Usually found on rocky shores and reefs around New Zealand, where there are plenty of cover and holes.
Size: Up to 2m across.
Feed: Fish, molluscs and crustaceans like crabs and shrimps.
Special Features: An Octopus has a central brain, a brain in each of its eight tentacles, and three hearts!
An Octopus has no hard parts except for its powerful parrot-like beak. Staying inside its den during the day, the Octopus hunts at night or on dark dreary days. If an Octopus loses one of its tentacles it will grow another in its place.
The Octopus can shoot a smoke screen of ink at attackers and can change its colour and texture to escape predators, or attract a mate. It propels itself by jetting water from its mantle cavity through a siphon tube. And females lay vast numbers of eggs then don't eat until the eggs hatch in 30 days. The female's job is then done and she dies.
Names: Red Moki (Cheilodactylus spectabilis).
Habitats: Open sea.
Size: Up to 60cm.
Feed: All crustaceans growing on New Zealand's local reefs. They love mussels!
Special Features: Can live as long as 60 years!
The Red Moki is a species of fish found off the North Island of New Zealand. Red Moki is extremely territorial and remains in a small single territory for its entire lifetime, often of only around 100m2. This fish species can live up to 60 years old.
Names: Seahorse (Hippocampus abdominalis).
Habitats: Shallow subtropical, temperate waters, seagrass beds, estuaries, coral reefs, or mangroves.
Size: Up to 12-15cm.
Feed: Lives on live food.
Special Features: A Seahorse's eyes can move independently of each other, like a chameleon.
Native to New Zealand, Seahorses can often be found in seaweed-covered rocks clinging on with its tail. Females deposit eggs into the male's fleshy pouch over its stomach where they are fertilised and the male gives birth.
Although they are bony fish, they do not have scales, but rather thin skin stretched over a series of bony plates, which are arranged in rings throughout their bodies. Each species has a distinct number of rings. Seahorses swim upright. Unusual among fish, a seahorse has a flexible, well-defined neck. It also sports a coronet on its head, which is distinct for each fish. A Seahorse brood size (in captivity) varies between around 20 and up to 270.
Other interesting facts about Seahorses:
- The New Zealand Seahorse is larger than any other types in the world.
- Seahorses have no teeth but long snouts, which they use to suck up small animals.
- Live in groups, where there is one there will be more.
- Common throughout New Zealand and plentiful around Napier's breakwater.
- All National Aquarium Seahorses are third generation and were bred at Aquarium (behind the scenes).
Names: Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) / Tamure.
Habitats: Rocky areas, reef and open seas up to 200m deep.
Size: Generally 30-40cm long.
Feed: Will eat almost anything including shellfish, crabs, shrimps, heart urchins, small fish.
Special Features: Can live up to 40 years of age and grow to 1m long!
Snapper are found on all coasts of New Zealand, especially in the north. Spawning in inshore waters, Snapper live in rocky areas and reefs of up to 200m deep. Larger Snapper are known to enter estuaries and harbours.
Snapper is found throughout New Zealand, but is most abundant in the north of the North Island. An average Snapper size ranges from 25-40cm but there are reports of 15kg Snapper at over 1m in length. Snapper are generally silver in colour, deepening to bronze-red and pink on top, with blue spots scattered over the silver side.
Names: Spotty (Notolabrus celidotus) / Pāketi.
Habitats: All around New Zealand's coastline in shallow water.
Size: Up to 20cm.
Feed: Omnivores – Small crustaceans, crabs and brittle stars.
Special Features: If the alpha male dies, the females fight for supremacy and the winner becomes alpha female!
Spotty are common around wharves and harbours and are often caught by children fishing. When there is one male in a 'harem of Spotties', if he dies, the females fight for supremacy and the winner becomes the alpha female.
With different colourations for males and females, the Spotty was named due to the spot or spots on their bodies. Native to New Zealand, they're found all around the coastline. Opportunistic feeders, they'll eat a wide variety of food from small crustaceans (juveniles) to larger prey such as crabs and brittle stars (adults). Also known as Kelpie or Guffy.
Names: Tarakihi (Nemndactylus macropterus).
Habitats: Shallow reefs when juveniles then deeper water up to 250m as adults.
Size: Up to 30-60cm.
Feed: Crabs, worms and shellfish.
Special Features: A distinctive saddle marking across its head.
Distinguished by a dark saddle across its head, the Tarakihi lives in mud and sand, eats crabs, worms and shellfish, feeding mainly at dusk. Females are larger and faster than males and either sex can live up to 45 years old.
Tarakihi is a relative of Red Moki common around New Zealand, but mostly found south of East Cape and around the South Island. As juveniles they can be found on shallow reefs but once mature school over open seafloors at 50- 250m.
Names: Trevally (Coranx lutescens)
Habitats: Plentiful in northern New Zealand.
Size: Up to 80cm.
Feed: On small fish.
Special Features: Black dot at top of gill plate and flat silvery body.
Trevally belong to a widely distributed group of fish, sometimes called Jacks. These fish occur in all tropical and sub-tropical seas.
Names: Yellow-eyed Mullet (Aldrichetta forsteri).
Habitats: Shallow coastal waters.
Size: Up to 25cm.
Feed: Benthic detritus, algae and small invertebrates.
Special Features: Sometimes these fish will swim up freshwater rivers!
The Yellow-eye Mullet is found around New Zealand, the Chatham Islands, and south Australia. Their backs are an olive-green, and the belly is silver, usually with a yellow tinge. The eyes are a distinctive bright yellow, as their name suggests.
They commonly grow to 25cm although the largest recorded size is 50cm in length and almost 1kg. The Yellow-eye Mullet's ranges from the surface to depths of 50m, but usually only down to 10m. Schooling in large numbers in summer and also entering bays and estuaries, occasionally large schools can be seen feeding on the surface.