Bottlenose Dolphin – photo by Suzanne Canja

About Hawaiʻi’s Dolphins

Hawaiian name: Nai’a. Three species of dolphins are commonly seen in Hawaiʻi’s near shore waters: spinner, bottlenose and spotted.

Spinner Dolphins

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) are the species most commonly enjoyed by visitors because they frequent regular near shore areas during the daytime to rest after nocturnal foraging in deeper water for food. This small, long-beaked dolphin can “spin” or revolve around its longitudinal axis as many as six times on one leap out of the water. They are found in resident pods around all of the main islands, resting in shallow bays in the day and hunting at night for small schooling fish.

Spotted Dolphins

Spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuataare) easily confused with spinners; they are closely related and look very similar. However, the end of the rostrum or “beak” is white-tipped and mature animals have a spotted color pattern on the body. Spotted dolphins are usually seen in the channels between the islands and do not rest near shore. Both spotted and spinner dolphins travel in schools from small numbers up to hundreds, and they are the two species caught in tuna nets in the eastern Pacific.

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are distinguishable from spotted and spinner dolphins by their much larger size, their uniformly gray coloration and their thicker, blunter rostrum. They are usually seen in smaller pods or groups of less than 10 individuals. Intelligent and high up on the oceanic food chain, dolphins are found to engage in playful activities including bow riding where they surf in front of a boat or even a whale’s bow wave.

How Hawaiʻi Wildlife Fund works to help Dolphins

Supports dolphin research projects

HWF has collaborated with whale researcher Dr. Robin Baird for more than two decades. His research has contributed to the understanding of dolphin population dynamics and distribution in Hawai’i and elsewhere.  He has worked as a Research Biologist with Cascadia Research Collective since 2003. His current research focuses on Hawaiian odontocete population structure, abundance, ecology and anthropogenic impacts, including studies of false killer whales, pantropical spotted dolphins, dwarf sperm whales, and others.

Educates people about dolphins

HWF naturalists teach thousands of island residents and visitors each year about dolphin ecology, threats to the marine environment and respectful wildlife watching guidelines, including the following:

  • Never feed dolphins, this encourages them to accept foreign and potentially dangerous objects.
  • Observe dolphins from a distance, never chase them.
  • Help keep the ocean clean, and pick up floating trash.
  • Under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, it is an offence to disturb or harass any marine mammal.

Hawaiian Dolphins