Friday, January 29, 2010

Deadliest Marine Creature in the Hawaiian Islands

In Hawaiian waters there are a number of creatures that could possibly be fatal to a human being.  A shark could easily rip a person to shreds, an eagle ray could stab a person with it's barbed stingers and jellyfish, scorpionfish and even cone shells could envenomate a hapless victim leading to death. Even eating a carnivorous reef fish like a jack could result in ciguatera poisoning and doom.

Photo Copyright 2010 by Barry Fackler

Of all these potential ocean hazards, none claims more lives than the one pictured above, the opihi.  Opihi are a type of limpet that lives on rocky shorelines which are frequently buffeted by strong surf. It is a prized delicacy in Hawai'i and the main attraction at a truly authentic lu'au. Opihii must be pried off the rocks with a butter knife while the waves recede. Many an opihi picker has drowned when the strong wave came back, catching the picker unawares and pulling him out to sea.

Opihi is most certainly an acquired taste and seems, to me, like eating salty rubber bands. The meat (which is the foot of the animal) can be either yellow or black depending on the particular species. Empty shells are silver on the inside and look a bit like bottle caps. The sxample shown above is a Giant Opihi (also called a Kneecap Limpet) and can reach a length of 4 inches. Other species are considerably smaller.

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