There are over 400 species worldwide within the wrasse family, Labridae, roughly half of which are found in Australia. Size, shape and behavioural patterns vary greatly between species, however one common characteristic of this family is that they are protogynous hermaphrodites. That is all juveniles are born female, they consequently join a female harem that is dominated by a single male and if the behavioural cues of the male are missing the largest female will ultimately change sex. Similarly to other wrasse species, the Maori wrasse has an elongated body shape and colouration that changes between genders and as they mature. Females and juveniles are reddish brown on top with white and a lighter orange colour below. Males have the same colouration but also develop a dark stripe horizontally along the lateral line and the distinctive blue face scribbles that give this species their name, resembling Maori tattoos. The Maori wrasse grow to a maximum length of 47 centimetres.
The Maori wrasse is endemic to Australian temperate coastal waters where they are abundant on rocky reefs in shallow waters, extending to offshore reefs to depths of 60 metres in the southern part of their range. They also inhabit sand and weed areas in coastal bays where they feed on a variety of benthic invertebrates. The Maori wrasse was recorded as one of ten of the most abundant fish on the Recherche Archipelago in southern Western Australia. This species is found from the Houtman Abrolhos Islands, WA to their southern limit, the Kent Group Islands, Tasmania.
Occurrence at the Busselton Jetty:
Only juveniles of the Maori wrasse have been sighted from the underwater observatory. The most likely reason for this is that many species of fish, including the Maori wrasse utilise the surrounding seagrass meadows as a nursery ground where both protection and food are plentiful. The majority of species occurring through the windows of the underwater observatory are those in juvenile stages, where they venture out from the seagrass to explore the artificial reef of the Busselton Jetty.