Dolphin Watching

Dolphin Watching

Hawaii is one of the few places in the world where visitors can get close to dolphins in the wild. Imagine the thrill of seeing dolphins playing just offshore—or one of the dolphin-watching tour companies will be glad to take you aboard for a chance to see some amazing acrobatic displays just off the side of the boat. Some operators also offer excursions for snorkeling or swimming with dolphins.

Oahu’s west coast waters at Waianae are the most likely place on the island that you can see nai’a, the Hawaiian name for dolphin. Spinner and bottlenose dolphins are those most commonly sighted, and your chance of catching a glimpse is higher during the morning hours when small groups come near shore to rest and play.

Spinner dolphins are famous for their incredible jumps—they often fly into the air and make several complete spins before diving back into the ocean. Generally five to seven feet long and weighing between 130 and 200 pounds, Hawaii’s spinners are dark gray on their backs, with a stripe of lighter gray on their sides and a white belly.

Why do the spinner dolphins spin? Some think it’s just a joyful expression or a teaching demonstration, but it may also be a courtship display, a method of ejecting water from the upper respiratory tract, or the more mundane reason of ridding themselves of parasites.
Whatever the reason, it’s exciting to watch.

Bottlenose dolphins are larger than the spinners, ranging in size from seven to 10 feet in length and weighing between 600 and 800 pounds. Their backs are a medium gray color, with their sides being lighter gray and their bellies are white or pink. The population of bottlenose dolphins around Hawaii is believed to be a few thousand, but you might see them in groups of two to 15 individuals.

Bottlenose dolphins are the ones you generally see at aquarium shows and on TV programs, and are thought to be one of the most intelligent mammals on planet earth.

A Few Dolphin Facts:

  • Dolphins breathe through a blowhole on top of their head. They are conscious breathers: in other words, they think about when to breathe. They can breathe without surfacing. They blow a bubble when near the water surface and then quickly draw breath in when the bubble forms a bridge between the blowhole and the air, through the water. As the dolphin exhales the air leaves the blowhole at speeds of over 100 miles per hour.

  • A dolphin puts one half of its brain to sleep at a time (literally sleeping with one eye open). In this way, it is never completely unconscious.

  • Dolphins hunt mostly at night, eating fish, jellyfish, krill, squid, and small crustaceans. Before diving up to 800 feet into the darkness below, they assemble into a pod, possibly to protect themselves from sharks, which are natural dolphin predators. They find their prey using echolocation.

  • Dolphins are generally believed to have an average life expectancy of about 30 years.

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