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Tahiti's Sea Life - What You'll See While Snorkeling or Diving in Tahiti

From cute clown fish to mighty whales, Tahiti's lagoons are a diver's delight.

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Sea urchin in Bora Bora

A local Bora Bora guide handles a spiny sea urchin with great care.

Donna Heiderstadt

With hundreds of species of fish, shellfish, crustaceans and turtles, the waters surrounding the 118 islands that make up Tahiti teem with amazing subaquatic sights.

You'll have to don scuba gear to catch glimpses of some of the larger and more impressive specimens, but just snorkeling from your overwater bungalow on Tahiti, Moorea or Bora Bora, you are apt to spy some pretty amazing species-from delicate reef fish to adorable sea turtles to small black-tipped reef sharks.

Here's a look at 25 of the most common sea creatures you'll see when you take the plunge:

Southern stingrays: They love the shallow waters of Tahiti's lagoons and are one of the highlight's of the popular "shark and stingray feeding" tours, one of the top things to do in Tahiti.

Black-tipped reef sharks: Also abundant in the lagoon, these sleek sharks, called mao mauri in Tahitian, have distinctive black tips on their fins and average about five feet in length. Smaller black tips can often be spotted swimming near overwater bungalows and mid-size sharks are typical during "shark and stingray feeding" expeditions.

Clown fish: Immortalized in "Finding Nemo," these small, typically orange-striped fish, also known as anemone fish, are often spotted darting amid the fluttering tentacles of the poisonous tentacles of the sea anemone, to which they are immune.

Butterflyfish: These vibrant black, white and yellow striped fish are found all over Tahiti's lagoons, often congregating in large schools.

Angelfish: Also with black, white and yellow-striped bodies, these flat fish have a distinctive long fluttering top fin and a protruding nose.

Damselfish: Common around soft coral reefs these small fish come in a variety of colors, including vivid blue with a yellow tail.

Parrotfish: These large, ultra-colorful fish are a mosaic of vivid green, blue, yellow, orange, purple and pink and they are a common sight at Tahiti's top snorkel and dive spots.

Sea urchins: Found clinging to rocks and reefs in shallow waters all over Tahiti, these dark spiky creatures are to be avoided as their needles cause great pain when they puncture the skin.

Moray eels: Looking like something prehistoric, these large, snake-like rock dwellers are known to be aggressive (their bite can take off a finger) and should be avoided by divers and snorkelers alike.

Lemon sharks: Larger than the black-tipped sharks (up to 11 feet long), lemon sharks tend to stick to the open ocean beyond the reef-protected lagoons.

Dolphins: Like most of the South Pacific, Tahiti's ocean waters are home to pods of energetic bottlenose dolphins, often spotted on boat excursions outside the islands' lagoons.

Humpback whales: The annual migration of these massive creatures brings them through Tahiti's waters from July to November, with great photo opportunities available from the island of Moorea.

Manta rays: While less common that they used to be, these gentle giants with wing spans as wide as 12 feet glide around several dive sites in Bora Bora and Fakarava.

Barracuda: These long, slender, silver fish have very sharp teeth and are known to be aggressive, so snorkelers and divers are advised to steer clear if they spot one.

Green sea turtles: These endangered creatures are found throughout the islands; several resorts, such as the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa and the Le Meridien Bora Bora have rehabilitation and protection programs.

Octopus: You probably won't see one of these eight-legged hermits unless your guide entices one from its hiding place among rocks or coral on the lagoon or ocean bottom-be prepared for a blast of black ink.

Leopard rays: These brownish-gray rays with distinctive white spots are quite common in the lagoons of many Tahitian islands.

Triggerfish: These medium-large triangular-nosed fish come in a variety of color combos (the Picasso triggerfish is gray, white, yellow and blue) and can be aggressive.

Snapper: You'll find this common fish in large schools while diving-and on most restaurant dinner menus, typically drenched in a Tahitian vanilla sauce.

Puffer fish: when threatened, these small gray and white fish puff up their bodies like a volleyball-with tiny spikes all over.

Needle fish: Long, skinny and silver, these needle-nosed fish dart through shallow lagoon water.

Wrasse: This species ranges from mini (Scott's fairy wrasse) to mammoth (Napoleon wrasse) and love to hang out near coral formations.

Grouper: Several varieties are common in Tahiti, including docile speckled giants known for letting divers pet them.

Sea cucumbers: Like leathery versions of the vegetable after which they were named, these elongated creatures live on the lagoon bottom don't bother anything except the algae they eat.

Starfish: You may be used to the golden-brown kind, but in Tahiti these five-fingered bottom dwellers come in shades from brilliant blue to bright orange.

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