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The humphead wrasse is a vulnerable tropical fish species. Natural rarity, lack of trade regulations, overfishing and climate change have contributed to a population loss of 50% in the last thirty years.

This four-hundred pound fish is often hooked for the exotic animal trade, and it’s easy to see why aquarium collectors would find it a prized possession. Oversized fleshy lips, colorful scales and a prominent forehead make the humphead wrasse a spectacular sight. They can live as long as thirty years and grow to be almost eight feet. And even more astounding? The humphead wrasse can switch sexes, transform colors and change shape during its lifetime.

And although the humphead wrasse was once only eaten by royalty, this endangered odd-looking fish is now a delicacy in the fine dining market ­throughout east Asia. It’s been said that wealthy individuals have paid hundreds of dollars – even thousands – for a taste of its rare flesh. The humphead wrasse is slow to multiply, as­ they don’t reach sexual maturity until they are at least five years old.

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Whether the demand is for a pet or the palate, this coral reef dweller is unprotected in many areas and often illegally traded across borders. Both mature and juvenile humphead wrasse are at risk – aquarium collectors frequently snatch up the hooked little ones and larger catches are sold to lavish Asian restaurants. 

Combined with unmanaged fisheries, coral reef destruction, predictable spawning sites and a natural infrequency in the wild, the humphead wrasse is a species that may soon disappear from its range in the Indo-Pacific.

Learn how to help the endangered humphead wrasse.

Photo taken by Jodi Kendall at the Georgia Aquarium.