The Kingfish: Waikiki Aquarium's Director Andrew Rossiter

Andrew Rossiter, head of the Waikiki Aquarium, on monk seal smarts, messing with fish thieves, and the myth of the man-eating clam.

Photo: Adam Jung

MONK SEALS are very, very smart. We juggle around their feeding times, but if there’s an announcement saying, “The monk seal feeding will be in 20 minutes,” they jump out of the water and wait. They recognize the voice tones, or maybe even the words.

ONE NIGHT somebody cut a hole in our fence and netted about 20 moi, probably to sell to restaurants. The next day I went on the TV news and said: “Please do not consume these fish. They’re breeder fish and they’ve been injected with hormones to make them spawn. If you eat them, it’s likely you might develop breasts.” Ingesting hormone-heavy fish is not a good idea, but men wouldn’t grow breasts. I was messing with their heads on that one.

WE ARE home to the oldest and largest giant clams of any aquarium in the world. We have two. The largest weighs in excess of 200 pounds.  

A LOT of people ask me, “Do giant clams really grab divers’ feet?” No, they don’t. Their jaws close incredibly slowly. You have to really force your foot between their jaws and then stand there and wait. They’re not man-eating clams, although they might drown you.

THIS IS extremely embarrassing, but one of our aquarists was working in the clam exhibit, and he leaned over and accidentally stuck his knee into one of the clam’s jaws. It clamped down on him. With a big audience of people watching, he had to extract his knee from this giant clam. Of course, the more you pull, the tighter they close. The ridges on the shell pierced his skin. He had to go to the hospital.

I'VE GOT a sneaking admiration for the red-fanged trigger fish. When I used to do behind-the-scenes tours, I would splash water on top of a tank, and all the fish would come up thinking they were going to be fed. This individual would hide in the back, then suddenly dart up and bite my finger. I know I should have learned the first time, but on three separate occasions I got bitten by that fish. I  thought, this fish is
actually smarter than me.

I LOVE seafood. I’ve got no inhibitions at all about eating fish.

Did you know? When the National Aquarium in Washington, D.C., closed last fall, the Waikiki Aquarium (founded in 1904) became the second oldest aquarium in the U.S. The oldest is the Woods Hole Science Aquarium in Massachusetts.