Pale Surgeonfish, Acanthurus mata Cuvier 1829

Other Names: Elongate Surgeonfish, Pale Surgeon, Yellowmask Surgeonfish

A Pale Surgeonfish, Acanthurus mata, on Ribbon Reef #10, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, October 2020. Source: John Thorogood / License: CC by Attribution-NonCommercial

A pale blue to brown surgeonfish with fine wavy blue lines on the body, and a yellow bar through the eye that continues as two bands in front of the eye, ending in a small black spot posteriorly at the upper corner of the gill cover.

Cite this page as:
Bray, D.J. 2021, Acanthurus mata in Fishes of Australia, accessed 17 Jul 2024,

Pale Surgeonfish, Acanthurus mata Cuvier 1829

More Info


Shark Bay to the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia, to the Timor Sea, north of northwest of Bathurst Island, Northern Territory, Ashmore Reef in the Timor Sea,  and the northern Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, to at least Shell Harbour, New South Wales. Elsewhere the species is widespread in the tropical, Indo-west-central Pacific.
Inhabits coral and rocky reefs, usually on  steep slopes, often in turbid waters.


Dorsal fin IX, 24-26; Anal fin III, 23-24; Gill rakers 13-15 in both anterior and posterior rows. 
Body moderately elongate, compressed, depth 2.1–2.5 in SL; caudal peduncle slender, depth 7.7–9.5 in SL; caudal spine small, forward-pointing, folds into white sheath on each side of the caudal peduncle; caudal fin of adults deeply emarginate, double emarginate in juveniles; scales minute.


Dark brown to bluish with irregular horizontal blue lines on head and body; a small blackish spot at upper edge of gill cover, preceded by


Feeds on zooplankton in the water column, often in small schools. Juveniles consume benthic algae.


May form very large spawning aggregations.


Fished commercially in parts of its range, and small numbers are traded in the aquarium industry.


According to Russell (1803), the specific name mata is the local name for this species on the Coromandel Coast, India (the type locality).

Species Citation

Chaetodon mata Cuvier, 1829, Règne Animal 2: 224. Type locality: No locality stated (Coromandel coast, India, eastern Indian Ocean).


Bray, D.J. 2021


Atlas of Living Australia

Pale Surgeonfish, Acanthurus mata Cuvier 1829


Abesamis, R., Clements, K.D., Choat, J.H., McIlwain, J., Myers, R., Nanola, C., Rocha, L.A., Russell, B. & Stockwell, B. 2012. Acanthurus mata. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T177967A1505359. Downloaded on 05 December 2021.

Allen, G.R. 1997. Marine Fishes of Tropical Australia and South-east Asia. Perth : Western Australian Museum 292 pp. 106 pls.

Allen, G.R. & Erdmann, M.V. 2012. Reef fishes of the East Indies. Perth : Tropical Reef Research 3 vols, 1260 pp.

Allen, G.R. & Smith-Vaniz, W.F. 1994. Fishes of Cocos (Keeling) Islands. Atoll Research Bulletin 412: 1-21.

Allen, G.R., Steene, R.C. & Orchard, M. 2007. Fishes of Christmas Island. Christmas Island : Christmas Island Natural History Association 2 edn, 284 pp.

Allen, G.R. & Swainston, R. 1988. The Marine Fishes of North-Western Australia. A field guide for anglers and divers. Perth, WA : Western Australian Museum vi 201 pp., 70 pls.

Cuvier, G.L. 1829. Le Règne Animal Distribué d'après son Organisation, pour servir de base à l'histoire naturelle des animaux et d'introduction à l'anatomie comparée. Poissons. Paris : Fortin, Masson et Co. Vol. 2 Nouvelle édition, pp. 122-406 See ref at BHL

Domeier, M.L. & Colin, P.L. 1997. Tropical reef fish spawning and aggregations: defined and reviewed. Bulletin of Marine Science 60(3): 698-726.

Günther, A. 1861. Catalogue of the Fishes in the British Museum. Catalogue of the acanthopterygian fishes in the collection of the British Museum. London : British Museum Vol. 3 586 pp. (described as Acanthurus bleekeri, type locality East Indies).

Hutchins, J.B. 1990. Fish survey of South Passage, Shark Bay, Western Australia. pp. 263-278 in Berry, P.F., Bradshaw, S.D. & Wilson, B.R. (eds) Research in Shark Bay: Report of the France-Australe Bicentenary Expedition Committee. Perth : Western Australian Museum.

Hutchins, J.B. 2001. Biodiversity of shallow reef fish assemblages in Western Australia using a rapid censusing technique. Records of the Western Australian Museum 20: 247-270.

Hutchins, J.B. 2003. Checklist of marine fishes of the Dampier Archipelago, Western Australia. pp. 453-478 in Wells, F.E., Walker, D.I., & Jones, D.S. (eds) Proceedings of the Eleventh International Marine Biological Workshop: The Marine Flora and Fauna of Dampier, Western Australia. Perth : Western Australian Museum.

Johnson, J.W. 2010. Fishes of the Moreton Bay Marine Park and adjacent continental shelf waters, Queensland, Australia. pp. 299-353 in Davie, P.J.F. & Phillips, J.A. Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Marine Biological Workshop, The Marine Fauna and Flora of Moreton Bay. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum 54(3)

Kuiter, R.H. 1992. Tropical Reef-Fishes of the Western Pacific, Indonesia and Adjacent Waters. Jakarta : PT Gramedia Pustaka Utama 314 pp. pls.

Kuiter, R.H. 1993. Coastal Fishes of South-eastern Australia. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 437 pp.

Kuiter, R.H. & Debelius, H. 2001. Surgeonfishes, Rabbitfishes and Their Relatives. A comprehensive guide to Acanthuroidei. Chorleywood, U.K. : TMC Publishing 208 pp.

Randall, J.E. 1987. Three nomenclatorial changes in the Indo-Pacific surgeonfishes (Acanthurinae). Pacific Science 41(1-4): 54-61.

Randall, J.E. 2001. Surgeonfishes of Hawai'i and the World. Honolulu : Mutual Publishing and Bishop Museum Press 125 pp.

Randall, J.E. 2001. Zanclidae, Acanthuridae. pp. 3651-3683 in Carpenter, K.E. & Niem, T.H. (eds) The Living Marine Resources of the Western Central Pacific. FAO Species Identification Guide for Fisheries Purposes. Rome : FAO Vol. 6 pp. 3381-4218.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1990. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 507 pp. figs.

Randall, J.E., Allen, G.R. & Steene, R. 1997. Fishes of the Great Barrier Reef and Coral Sea. Bathurst : Crawford House Press 557 pp. figs.

Russell, M. 2001. Spawning Aggregations of Reef Fishes on the Great Barrier Reef: Implications for Management. Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Townsville, 42 pp.

Russell, P. 1803. Descriptions and figures of two hundred fishes: collected at Vizagapatam on the coast of Coromandel. London, in 2 vols. v. 1-2: i-vii + 78 pp. + 85 pp., 197 pls.

Russell, B.C., Larson, H.K., Hutchins, J.B. & Allen, G.R. 2005. Reef fishes of the Sahul Shelf. The Beagle, Records of the Museums and Art Galleries of the Northern Territory Supplement 1 2005: 83-105

Quick Facts

CAAB Code:37437011

Conservation:IUCN Least Concern

Depth:5-100 m

Fishing:Aquarium fish

Habitat:Reef associated

Max Size:50 cm TL

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Species Maps

CAAB distribution map