10 Facts About Spinner Dolphins

Seeing whales on a whale watch tour is awesome. No doubt about that. But do you know what else is awesome? Seeing dolphins! But is it legal to swim with them?

New Spinner Dolphin Rules for The Hawaiian Islands!

On October 28th, a new rule goes into effect where snorkelers, swimmers, SUPs, drones, boats, canoes, and kayaks can't be closer than50 yards from Hawaiian spinner dolphins while within 2 nautical miles of shore.  This is to protect them since they come closer to shore to rest (they're nocturnal.)

That being said, if they engage with you, and you don't make an effort to pursue them and are making an effort to move away, it's ok to be around the dolphins.

lanai dolphins

One of the best ways to see them is on our snorkel tour to Lanai. Spinner dolphins, the type you are most likely to see around Maui, are considered one of the most athletic sea mammals for their amazing aerial leaps. As we navigate to and from our snorkeling areas, it's ok for dolphins to enjoy the wake of our boat, so long as we don't change course.


Here are 10 facts about these beautiful creatures:


  1. The scientific name for spinner dolphins is stenella longirostris.
  2. There are four sub-species of spinner dolphins and they are often called long-snouted dolphins. The spinners in Maui's waters are often referred to as Gray's dolphins (named for John Gray, the researcher who first described them in 1828) or Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
  3. Hawaiian spinner dolphins feed mainly on small fish, squids, and shrimps. They feed at night and will often dive over 250 yards to eat.
  4. Female spinners reach sexual maturity between 5.5 and 10 years, while the males can reproduce between 10 and 12 years old. The gestation period for the dolphins is 10 months
  5. Hawaiian spinners are primarily three colors. The skin on the dorsal area is a deep gray, while its sides are a lighter shade of gray. The bottom portion of the dolphin is white. The dorsal fin area has small white spots.
  6. Because dolphins need to consciously think about breathing when they sleep only half of their brain rests at a time. The awake half needs to tell it to breathe and monitor its surroundings.
  7. Though the dolphins primarily breathe through their blowholes, Hawaiian spinners have developed a method of breathing without surfacing from the water. They blow a bubble when near the water surface and then quickly draw breath from it. Dolphins are so smart!
  8. When spinning, the dolphins can make up to seven complete rotations in the air!
  9. Though no one knows for sure, it's believed the dolphins spin for the following reasons:
    • To clean their bodies of parasites (this is the most common assumption)
    • For courting members of the opposite sex
    • To communicate with other dolphins
    • For fun!
  10. Besides spinning, they are also known to do full aerial somersaults(!), head slaps, tail slaps, and spy hops (when they stick their heads out of the water to take a peek).

Spinner dolphin facts

While we don't guarantee seeing dolphins on our Lanai Snorkel adventure, rare is the day when we don't see them. The dolphins love to play in the wake left by the boat and leaping in front of the boat.


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