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French Polynesia

  1. Porcelaine cypraealatior 
  2. Porcelaine c. auratium 
  3. Porcelaine c. scurra. 
  4. Murex drupa elegans.
  5. Turridae lienardia fubida. 
  6. Mitre mitra mitra. 
  7. Strombus lentiginosus. 
  8. Cône conus pennaceus.
  9. Cône c.gauguini. 
  10. Térèbre terebraareolata
  11. Harpe harpa major
  12. Lambis crocata 
  13. Fusinus undatus

  1. Ume en tahitien, le nason (Naso unicornis).
  2. Cocher (zanclus cornutus)
  3. Empereur (Pomacanthus imperator)
  4. Diodon
  5. Baliste picasso.
  6. Écureuil.
  7. Coffre
  8. Perroquet
  9. Murène
  10. Mérou, roi en tahitien.
  11. Napoléon, mara.



Fish from the Lagoon & Ocean

Fish from the Lagoon

Of all the fauna of the reefs, the fish living permanently in the coral environment of the islands of volcanic origin or in the atolls are the predominant species.  The fish living on the reefs are the most useful creatures in the Polynesian marine world, and of course, the most attractive for visitors exploring the underwater depths.

700 of these same fish, excluding sharks and reptiles, are to be found on the edge or the middle of the lagoon or on the shelf on the ocean side of the reef.  They represent the basic protein intake of the local population, and the Papeete market alone sells 2,000 tons every year.  The flesh of these fish does not have the flavour of fish from colder climates and has a further disadvantage - it can become dangerous for the consumer from time to time.  You will find a further reference to this phenomenon in the later pages of this website.

For specialists, the classification of fish depends on recognizing certain characteristics like the number of spines per fin or the number of scales along their sides.  Without the added gauge of colours and particular measurements, ichthyology could not function.

It is impossible to give an exhaustive list of fish here, but nevertheless, let us mention a few large families you will often come across in the lagoon; for example, the chaetodontidae, little brightly-colored angel-fish that nibble at the coral in schools of various sizes.  The damsel-fish and clown-fish (pomacentidae), among the pink anemones' most famous lodgers.  The parrot-fish (scatidae) whose 25 varieties, all brightly-coloured, are often eaten marinated in lime-juice.  The groupers (serranidae), sometimes reaching sizeable proportions, are carnivorous predators who seem to tolerate man if he approaches; the moray-eels (muraenidae) lurking in their holes in the daytime or out in the water at night.  

The soldier-fish (holocentridae) who resemble their Mediterranean cousins.  The strange little box-fish (ostracidae) who move about like helicopters, and the leopard-rays (myliobatidae) betrayed by their blotches when they hide in the sand.

You will also see some of the 17 species of jack (carangidae) sometimes found in the open sea, or little sharks which arejust as inquisitive as dogs.  The lagoon-sharks are usually small and not very dangerous.  The three most common species are the blackfin (Carcharius metanopterus), the whitefin (Triaenodon obesus) and the grey shark (Negaprion acutidens).  They can swim in very shallow water to look for waste food products, and in the Tuamotus you can see children riding on their backs in 30 cms of water.

Fish from the Ocean

If the Polynesian's attitude to the ocean has undergone great changes since the time of the great migrations, he has nevertheless maintained a close relationship with the sea.  The foreigner is amazed by his knowledge of the elements and his ability to adapt to the marine world without seeking to dominate it.

These peoples have lived for centuries by drawing on the ocean for most of their food, tools and ornaments.  Today, only fishing and leisure activities attract islanders to the sea.

Bonito fishing is the Polynesians' main activity in the open sea.  Their small boats, built locally, are as typical of Tahiti as the famous "truck", or local bus.  The bonito, which has become a symbol of the Tahitian diet, can survive in water 300 meters deep, and the annual catch is estimated at 1 200 tones.

Tuna fishing is not so important and only involves yellow-fin tuna which is fished from the surface by bonito fishing boats.  The annual production in Papeete is 400 tones.  Two other species of tuna are found in Polynesia, the albacore and the big-eye tuna.  These are fished by small Asiatic fleets of fishing boats who have made individual agreements with the Territory.

Other types of fishing are not specialized and are carried on according to timeworn practices.

However, let us dwell for a moment on how marara are caught.  These flying fish, used as live bait, are taken from a special kind of fishing boat steered by a control-handle.  When the season is right, these fishermen also capture the prized mahi mahi, or dolphin fish which can attain sizeable proportions.  From time to time the local fishermen still bring in jack, barracudas or the delicious paru, a large red perch, which lives in the ocean depths.

Big game fishing

After the big tuna, the swordfish and marlin are the most sought-after game-fish.  Six species live in local waters, but three of them have become very rare: the sailfish, the striped marlin and the black marlin.  The blue marlin is the most frequently caught game-fish.  It is very large and can weigh up to a tonne, though the average catch for Tahitians is 400 kg.

Sharks.  French Polynesia has few potentially dangerous shark species and they are not often seen.

The famous white shark, whose notoriety is worldwide, does not frequent our waters.  The tiger-shark, more common than the former, stays in deep water during the day.  This mao is encountered more frequently in the channels at night.

The biggest group known here are the grey sharks, or carcharhinus, which can vary from the timid to the aggressive, like Longimanus which lives a fair distance from the coast.  The lemon shark, Negaprion acutidens, usually considered to be a redoubtable species, is fairly rare, measures up to three meters and is not aggressive.  According to Polynesians, it is a timid creature unless disturbed, when it can become very dangerous.  Finally we should mention two species of hammerhead sharks, which are theoretically harmless, and the whale shark, 20 meters long, which seems to be indifferent to everybody.  The Cetacea. 24 species frequent the Polynesian zone more or less regularly.

There are the solitary blue whales and several related groups, spermwhales, and dolphins.

Porpoises do not exist in our tropical waters and this name, which is often given to Polynesian dolphins, is no doubt due to the widely held belief that a dolphin has to be blue and white.  In fact, only two of the eight species here are this color.  These mammals move about in groups offering navigators a wonderful demonstration of acrobatics.

Ciguatera (Poisoning)

This poisoning is the result of a complex bio-ecology involving many fish that constitute the normal Polynesian diet.

Every year there are about 1,000 people who fall victim to ciguatera poisoning after having consumed fresh fish taken from the coral reefs.

The most frequently affected species are sea-perch, emperors, grouper, parrot-fish, napoleon fish and triggerfish.  Fish from the open sea like tuna and bonito are never toxic.

This form of poisoning, which has been there for centuries, exists in tropical waters all over the globe.  It is a major preoccupation of the authorities in French Polynesia, and a scientist from the research institute has been working constantly on the ciguatera problem for many years now.

The poison has finally been isolated, and research has proved that it is produced by a microscopic organism living on seaweed growing on dead coral.  Of course, such algae do not develop on a reef rich in living coral.  However, if this environment is upset by man or natural disturbances, like cyclones, a lot of coral dies and the resulting debris is then liable to promote the development of toxic algae.

This poison, which is produced in considerable quantities, is transmitted first to the herbivorous fish and then to the flesh-eating fish that feed on the latter.  If man eats fish containing this toxin he becomes ill.

The symptoms of ciguatera are a tingling sensation in the face and hands and vomiting and diarrhea.  If a doctor is not available, first-aid measures consist of getting the patient to vomit copiously and then to take calcium as well as vitamins B 1, B6 and BI 2.

See also the Fish Gallery

For more general information on French Polynesia, go to:

For more regional information on French Polynesia, go to:

For more product information on French Polynesia, go to:

We have included French Polynesia in some of our specials to the South Pacific, eg. our Kontiki Voyage and South Sea Dream Voyage. Another option is to create your own package to French Polynesia by utilizing the seperate travel components, like hotels, flights and excursions on the islands.

For a legal wedding the legal requires in French Polynesia that you remain at least 30 days in French Polynesia before the marriage. In practice this means you may only have a ceremonial wedding in French Polynesia (see also Tiki Village).

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