Meet "Wally" the Maori Wrasse

Wally (n): A silly or inept person. British informal.

Wally (fish): A giant humphead Maori Wrasse that lives off our Moore Reef Marine Base.

At Sunlover Reef Cruises, Wally the Maori Wrasse certainly lives up to his name! This charming character is pretty much the equivalent of an underwater puppy! From sneaking up on snorkellers to giving epic poses to the camera, Wally doesn't fall short when it comes to comedic value.

As one of the largest and most colourful fish on The Great Barrier Reef, it's no surprise that Wally has become a local celebrity.

Get ready to learn all about the legend that is Wally the Maori Wrasse...

About Maori Wrasse

Growing up to a whopping two metres in length, the Maori Wrasse is the largest fish in the Wrasse family. These big beauties are easily distinguished by their unique and intricate woven patterns, which resemble traditional New Zealand Maori tattoos. This stunning fish is also referred to as a Napoleon fish.

Maori Wrasse vary in colour and pattern depending on their age and gender. All females tend to be orange-red in hue and their colour doesn't change as they mature. Males on the other hand, can vary from electric blue to green or blue-purple. Their colour tends to become more vibrant as they mature. Yep: unlike us, Maori Wrasse actually get more attractive with age!

Funnily enough, mature males tend to have more distinct patterns and markings than their more juvenile counterparts.

Female-Male Sex Change

Did you know that Maori Wrasse are protogynous hermaphrodites? This basically means that they have the ability to transition from female to male. All Maori Wrasse are born with both male and female sex organs and are referred to at this point as "initial phase males" and "initial phase females".

In an ironic twist of fate, those fish born male will never be the dominant male. On the other hand, those born female that transition into male will become 'supermales' and be the dominant male of the harem. This process normally takes place when the dominant male dies or moves location.

Terminal phase males tend to breed with small harems of females. However, as soon as a supermale shows up, they must give up their territory... and their women!

At Moore Reef, we currently have a Maori Wrasse that is transitioning from male to female. This smaller and less vibrant Maori Wrasse is known as 'Walla'. Walla may have started the transition when the supermale Wally had left his territory to breed.

However, for many months of the year Wally the supermale returns and Walla has to give up her spot in the limelight with our snorkellers and dive instructors.

The Difference Between Wally & Walla

As you can see from the photos, Walla is smaller than size and is more brownish-green as opposed to the vibrant aqua hue of Wally. The most distinguishable feature between the two fish is Wally's large hump on the top of his head. His fleshier lips are also more prominent.


Being toxic, Crown Of Thorn Starfish may not seem like a tasty delicacy for us, but it's a firm favorite of the Maori Wrasse! That's right: Wally is actually a reef warrior! By munching on crown of thorns starfish, Maori Wrasse reduce the number of this coral-eating, damage-causing pest.

Wally and Walla also feast on molluscs, fish, echinoderms, sea urchins and crustaceans. Their large fleshy lips absorb any spines from these critters.

Maori Wrasse also have retractable lips which allow them to retrieve prey from nooks and crannies in the reef.

Our Local Celebrities

Wally and Walla are Great Barrier Reef celebrities in more ways than one. Guests can often spot them following around our underwater photographers in the hope of getting "papped". Snorkellers will rejoice at the sight of Wally floating gormlessly towards them to capture that hero holiday shot.

Those who walk underwater on our Seawalker Helmet Dive will see just how curious Wally is to meet each and every one of our Sunlover guests! Even less confident swimmers can hang off our Marine Base or float in a life jacket and be greeted by this gentle giant just metres away from the Marine Base.

Book our Moore Reef full day tour and meet Wally yourself!
Are you ready for a game of Where's Wally?