Five Turtles You Could See on Maui

Five Turtles You Could See on Maui

Turtles are the rare creature you can see both underwater and on shore. While you’re more likely to spot turtles, on Maui at least, in the water, if you know where to look you can see the largest of them, green sea turtles, resting on the beach. Hawaii is home to three native sea turtle species and has a total of five sea turtle species in its waters. Here are the types of sea turtles you may find while wandering and snorkeling around Maui, listed in order of the likelihood of you spotting one.

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10 Facts about Rays in Hawaii

10 Facts about Rays in Hawaii

One of the most exciting fish to see while snorkeling in Hawaii is a ray. A distant cousin of the shark, rays can often be seen in Maui’s waters fairly close to shore. Highly photogenic, seeing rays is always the highlight of any snorkeling adventure. Here are 10 facts about these lovely fish.

  1. Hawaii is home to three types of rays: manta, stingray and spotted eagle. The manta ray is the most common, especially near shore.
  2. The manta rays you’ll see near Maui’s shores average 5-to-8 feet, but can reach over 14 feet.
  3. Rays have been around in their modern form for at least 20 – 25 million years. Manta rays, however, have only been around for about 4.8 million years.
  4. Because manta rays can be identified individually by researchers because of the distinctive spots on their bellies.
  5. Manta rays have the largest brains amongst the 32,000 species of fish.
  6. The “stinger” on a manta ray does not work. So no fear of being injured (from the tail, anyway) of a manta ray. However, should you come across the aptly named stingray, watch out. Their tales are still very much venomous.
  7. The easiest way to distinguish a manta ray from a stingray is by color. Manta rays are black, while stingrays are brown. Stingrays also sport shorter tails.
  8. If you’re one of the lucky ones who sees a ray breach (leap from the water), the ray you’re most likely seeing is a spotted eagle ray. They are known for the colorful (white, yellow and green) dots on their backs, which contrast nicely against their black skin.
  9. Rays are distant cousins of sharks. Like sharks, instead of bones, their vertebra is made of cartilage. They also must constantly swim in a forward motion to pass oxygenated water through their gills. They cannot swim backwards.
  10. As of 2009, manta rays in Hawaii’s waters are protected against killing and capturing. Offenders will receive criminal penalties and fines of up to $10,000.

Please tell us about any rays you have come across in Hawaii in the comments below. Thanks!

10 Facts About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

10 Facts About the Hawaiian Monk Seal

We love our monk seals. But if you’re lucky enough to see one, remember to keep your distance. They are endangered and should not be touched or harassed in any way. Beyond that, Hawaiian monk seal mothers of newborns will aggressively protect their pups. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recommends keeping a distance of 150 feet, allowing them to remain undisturbed.

  1. The official state mammal of Hawaii, the scientific name for the Hawaiian monk seal is Neomonachus schauinslandi. The Hawaiian name is “Ilio holo I ka uaua”, which translates to “dog that runs in rough water”.
  2. The average lifespan of a Hawaiian monk seal is 25 to 30 years. Adult males grow to about 7 feet long and weigh between 300 and 400 pounds. Meanwhile, females can grow to 8 feet long and can weigh between 400 to 600 pounds.
  3. The Hawaiian monk seal is unique in that they live in a tropical climate. Most seals prefer frigid water.
  4. Hawaiian monk seals do not have external ears and they cannot rotate their hind flippers underneath their bodies.
  5. Breeding season is between June and August, with birth usually occurring between March and June. The average gestation time is nine months. Mothers of newborn pups are devoted to their offspring while nursing. For the first 5-to-6 weeks of a newborn’s life, the mother is so busy safely raising her pup that she will not eat. The pups go from 35 pounds at birth to roughly 175 pounds while being nursed. The mothers, though, will lose hundreds of pounds during this time. Once finished nursing her pups, the mothers will abandon their offspring and head out to the ocean to feed.
  6. Hawaiian monk seals feed primarily in deep water coral beds on fish, lobster, octopus and squid.
  7. Humans are the biggest threat to Hawaiian Monk Seal survival. Though we don’t outright hunt them, they will often get entangled in fishing nets and gear. We also encroach on their coastal resting places. Tiger sharks and Galapagos sharks are known to prey on them. Finally, male Hawaiian monk seals will often group up and kill or injure females and immature monk seals of both sexes during a mating ritual called “mobbing”.
  8. Native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian hoary bat are the only two mammals endemic to the Hawaiian islands.
  9. The Hawaiian and the Mediterranean monk seals are the last two surviving monk seals in the world. The Caribbean monk seal, which was once the third type of monk seal, was declared extinct in 2008. In 2016, it was estimated there are 1,400 Hawaiian seals in existence.
  10. The Hawaiian monk seal was officially declared an endangered species in November, 1976.

Have you seen a Hawaiian monk seal on Maui? If so, where? Please tell us your story in the comments below…

10 Facts About Spinner Dolphins

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! 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.. 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 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 spyhops (when they stick their heads out of the water to take a peek).

Have you seen spinner dolphins? Tell us about your experience in the comments below. Thanks!

Dolphins, Sharks and Whales You May See in Maui

Dolphins, Sharks and Whales You May See in Maui

We often get asked what types of whales, dolphins and sharks are spotted here in Maui. This is not a complete list, just the ones that are most often seen from Maui’s shores and while on whale watch and snorkeling tours.

DOLPHINS
Spinner Dolphins (Very common)
We consistently see spinner dolphins on our Lanai snorkel tours, where they will play in the wake of our boats. These friendly dolphins are generally 4-to-7 feet in length and weigh between 50-to-170 pounds. The spinner dolphins of Maui feed at night, primarily on small fish, squid and shrimp.

 

Bottlenose Dolphins (Somewhat common)
Though similar looking to spinner and spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins are much larger in size, ranging from 6-to-13 feet and weighing up to 660 pounds. They also have a thicker, shorter rostrum (beak) that old-time sailors thought looked like a gin bottle, hence its name. Grey up top and white on its belly, the bottlenose dolphin is difficult to see from both above and below.

 

Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Somewhat rare)
A member of the dolphin family, short-finned pilot whales, with their rounded foreheads and snouts, look like whales. They are mostly dark colored with light grey stomachs and throats. Short-finned pilot whales grow to about 18 feet in length and can weigh up to 6,600 pounds. They feed primarily on squid and have been dubbed the “cheetahs of the deep” for the way they chase down squid while hundreds of meters deep.

False Killer Whales (Rare)
We’ve seen a couple of false killer whales during the 2017-2018 whale season on our whale watch tours, but for the most part, these are rarely spotted in Maui. They are quite large, averaging 16 feet in length and they can weigh up to 4,900 pounds. False killer whales are black with grey throats. Like actual killer whales, false killer whales will hunt other marine mammals.

 

SHARKS
Blacktip Reef Sharks (common)
Growing to an average length of about 6 feet, blacktip sharks are easily identified due to their, wait for it… blacktipped fins. They tend to feed most often at dawn and dusk, mainly on shellfish, squid, octopus and bony fish. There have been very few incidents involving human/blacktip interactions and no fatalities.

 

Whitetip Reef Sharks (common)
The whitetip reef shark is the only shark in Hawaii with the ability stop swimming and rest for long periods of time. They generally do this in caves or under ledges. They can grow up to 6 feet long and are not considered dangerous to humans.

 

 

Hammerhead Sharks (rare)
In Hawaii, hammerhead sharks have been seen up to 14 feet in length, though they tend to average out at about 7 feet. Here on Maui, hammerhead sightings are far less frequent than the other islands where they give birth and raise pups. They are most commonly seen while scuba diving off of Molokai. When they do come close to shore on Maui, they warrant beach closings. The last occurring in November, 2016.

 

Whale Sharks (rare)
Though rare, there were two prominent sightings of whale sharks in Maui in 2017, both occurring near Molokini. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, weighing up to 21 tons and measuring out from 18′-to-33′. They feed by swimming with their mouths open and filtering everything that comes into its path.

 

WHALES
Humpback Whales (Common)
Whale season in Maui refers to when the humpback whales visit our waters. Officially, it runs from December – April. Though in 2017, the first humpback whales appeared in October and whale tours started in earnest in early November. Humpback whales are the fifth largest whales in the ocean, growing up to 60 feet long and weighing between 25 and 40 tons. To learn more about humpback whales, we ran a full series of articles:

Part 1: Humpback Migration from Alaska to Hawaii
Part 2: Why Humpbacks Breach
Part 3: Visual Guide of Humpback Actions
10 Fun Facts About Humpback Whales
Humpback Whale Q & A
Whale watch Q & A specific to our tours

 

10 Fun Facts About Humpback Whales in Maui

10 Fun Facts About Humpback Whales in Maui

Whale season in Hawaii refers to the return of the north pacific humpback whales every winter. While the cycle varies slightly every year, most people consider whale season to run from December to April. To get you ready for whale season, here are 10 fun facts about humpback whales.

  1. Most humpback whales don’t actually have a hump on their back. Instead, the name is derived from the hump that appears when they arch their backs prior diving.
  2. A humpback whale head is covered with tubercles (knobs). Each knob contains at least one piece of stiff hair. The purpose of the hair is not known, though some believe it’s used to detect motion.
  3. Humpback whales have two blowholes, one for each lung. Their lungs are roughly the size of a Toyota Prius. Unlike humans, the whales need to think about breathing. This is why they sleep with one eye open and only rest half of their brain at a time.
  4. Humpbacks have live births. Their pregnancy cycle lasts for about year. Once born, calves drink about 50 gallons of milk per day.
  5. Like fingerprints, each whale has distinct markings on the underside of their tails. Scientists use these markings to identify and track individual whales.
  6. The whales do not feed in Hawaii. However, when they hunt during the summer months in the northwest, they use a technique called bubble net fishing whereby they will circle and blow bubbles at their prey until the prey is contained in a tight ball.
  7. Humpback whales don’t have teeth. Rather they have what’s called baleen plates. These plates act like a filter, separating the tiny krill shrimp they eat from the water.
  8. The north pacific humpbacks are the fifth largest whale species on the planet and can grow to 60-feet long and weigh between 25 – 40 tons. Like most whales, females are longer than males. The whales have huge tails, measuring up to 18 feet wide.
  9. Humpback whale “songs” were first recorded in the early 1950s right here in Hawaii. Recent research has found that the songs last roughly between 7-to-30 minutes, though they often repeat songs for hours on end. The songs can be heard up to 20 miles away.
  10. Only the male humpbacks sing. The ability to sing is not something they are born with, rather they are taught at a young age.

Want to experience the whales up close? Save 10% by booking a whale watch tour with us here.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

Corals of Maui

Corals of Maui

Snorkeling in Maui is fun. When you enter our waters, you’re liable to see fish of all colors, turtles, sea urchins, and maybe even (harmless) sharks and rays. But when snorkeling, don’t overlook the coral. Coral are beautiful, living ANIMALS. Coral has a unique, symbiotic relationship with other sea creatures and plants, and helps “power” our beautiful reefs. However, many corals are dying out due to rising sea temperatures and poisoning from popular sunscreens. See our sunscreen guide to learn more about how sunscreen poisons the reef and what to look for when purchasing reef-friendly sunscreens. Here are four common corals you’ll see in Maui. For fish, check out our Fish Guide for Snorkeling Maui.

Lobe Coral
Found in a variety habitats, lobe coral is one of the most common corals in Hawai’i’s oceans. It’s mostly seen in depths from 10 – 45 feet, though it can also be seen in shallow tide pools and can thrive as deep as 150 feet. They grow less than a centimeter a year, yet lobe coral can become massive entities, up to 20 feet across. Only the outermost layer, about 1 millimeter, is actually alive. There are several species of lobe coral in Hawai’i. You’ll often see yellow, greenish and tan varieties off of Maui’s shores.

 

Cauliflower Coral
The most common species of coral in surge-zone slopes of shallow reefs less than 10 feet deep, the cauliflower coral ranges in color from tan to pink. It can also be found in depths of 90 feet or more. Cauliflower coral is unusual in that it can only grow to maximum length of about 12-to-15 inches, whereas most corals do not have a capped size. The living portion of cauliflower coral is the outermost layer, roughly 2 millimeters deep.

RELATED: Best places to snorkel on Maui

 

Rice Coral
In still-water habitats, rice coral can be the dominant species of coral. It tends to live below the reef, where it is blocked from the effects of wave surges. One unique aspect of rice coral is its ability to take on a variety of shapes, depending on its proximity to light. If it is in direct sunlight, it tends to grow into spiked peaks, whereas in shady or deeper waters, it’s more flattened out. You can even find both forms of the coral in one seabed when spiked pinnacles, blocking the sun, live over the flat-type of coral. Rice coral, generally, ranges in color from solid cream to dark brown with lighter branch tips. However, the flat, blue rice coral, endemic to Hawai’i, is popular amongst snorkelers due to its bright blue color. Rice corals can grow to several feet in diameter.

Finger coral
Living in wave protected, shallow waters to 100 feet, finger corals are very common in Hawai’i’s waters. It derived its common name because the coral grows out and up, forming appendage-like structures. The “fingers” tend to be flattened at the tips. Finger Coral are light-brown/grey to yellow in color. It’s slow-growing, but it is believed there are colonies over 1,000 years old! (Image credit: By James St. John [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

 

RELATED: Maui Snorkeling Q&A

Fun Facts About the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa

Fun Facts About the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa

We are sure that you have heard of Hawaii’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, and have been challenged to sound out this seemingly complicated set of letters. Lucky for you, we won’t make you do that and will often refer to this fish as “humuhumu” like the locals do. Instead, we wanted to share a little bit of what makes the Hawaiian triggerfish so unique!

Growing up to 10 inches long, the humuhumu definitely has a name that is longer than its body! Tiny but mighty, this fish has a tough body structure and rough scales, enabling it to wiggle into small, rocky crevasses to hide from predators. The “trigger”, which is the second spine of the humuhumu, also allows it to lock onto the jagged edges of the reef while it rests.

It is a little known fact but the Hawaiian triggerfish is not on the endangered species list, unlike the Hawaiian monk seal and the nene goose. It is also not a common fish you will find on a dining table, even in the days of Old Hawaii. Early Hawaiians would actually use dried humu as fuel for cooking fires to create more desirable fish dishes.

Roughly translated, the name humuhumunukunukuapuaa means “fish with a snout like a pig” and is believed to stem from the warning grunts a distressed humu makes as well as its pig-like eating habits. Out in the open, away from the safety of the coral, the humuhumu finds its meals by scooping sand off the shallow ocean floor and sifting the inedible pieces out through their mouths in jet streams. While their special fins allow them to burst away once threatened the humuhumu has as a camouflage mechanism of sorts as an added security measure. Capable of changing the pigment of their scales, the colorful humuhumu is able to blend with its surroundings and feast in peace.

This Hawaiian fish is known to be pretty territorial despite its size and has the tendency to nip intruders with their one-of-a-kind blue teeth, so we recommend admiring from afar for those joining us on our Lanai snorkel boat trips! Among the famous humuhumunukunukuapuaa, you will most likely to come across some honu (turtles) that frequent the waters off Maui as well as an array of other colorful fishes!

If you have any questions about the marine life you’ll encounter on our Maui sunset cruises or Hawaii snorkeling tours, you will find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Hope to see you on board – so HOP to it, book today!

10 Fun Facts About Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

10 Fun Facts About Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

The scientific name for the green sea turtle is Chelonia mydas, but the Hawaiian name is simply: “Honu.” For many snorkelers, these fascinating marine reptiles become the highlight of a good outing. Despite their status as an endangered species, there are relatively common sightings around the coral reefs in Hawaii waters. Whether you join us aboard a Molokini snorkel tour or a Lanai snorkel tour, your odds of spotting one are good. Here are our favorite fun facts about Hawaii’s beloved green sea turtles, which we will refer to as Honu.


1. Sea turtles can’t retract their head into their shell like their smaller freshwater counterparts.

2. The Honu doesn’t get its name from the color of its shell, which is often brown, grey, black or dark olive colored. It gets its name from the color of its skin, or more accurately, subdermal (beneath the skin) body fat.

3. While adult Honu are herbivores with serrated jaws for eating seagrasses and algae, juveniles are omnivores, and dine on insects, crustaceans, worms, sea grasses and many other food sources that are available.

4. Honu grow to around 3-4 feet, but weigh up to 300-350 lbs or more!

5. This species of turtle won’t reach sexual maturity until they are between 20 and 50 years old. They’ve been documented at ages of 80 to 100 years and over. Scientists are still learning about their maturity and age range.

6. A sea turtle’s shell is called the carapace, and the underside of the shell is called the plastron.

7. Honu are found around the world in warm subtropical and tropical ocean waters. They’ve been documented nesting in over 80 different countries. In the U.S., you will find them nesting in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the east coast of Florida.

8. Honu habitats are split between the land and the ocean. The land is where they nest, lay eggs, and therefor hatch, while their ocean habitat is where they spend the vast majority of their lives. Since hatchlings rarely survive to reproductive age, most of them only touch land once in their lives, as they make their mad dash from their nest to the ocean.

9. Honu are known to travel long distances to return to their preferred breeding site. Sometimes across whole oceans. When the females are ready to lay their eggs, they climb out onto the beach, so it’s important to give them plenty of space if you do see them emerge from the water.

10. The main predators of the Honu are large sharks, especially tiger sharks. But human involvement is a close second, including entanglement in fishing gear, poaching, plastic ingestion, ocean pollution and coastal development. Respect and awareness can go a long way in preventing these dangers for the remarkable Honu.


We hope to see you aboard one of our snorkeling tours soon, and that you’ll get some amazing Honu sightings on your outing with us. Mahalo!

Common Sea Urchins of Hawaii Reefs and Tide Pools

Common Sea Urchins of Hawaii Reefs and Tide Pools

If you love exploring tide pools and coral reefs to discover the many fascinating inhabitants, Maui is a great place to be. Whether you join us aboard a Molokini Snorkel Boat Tour, or you opt to stick to Maui’s coastlines, the reefs and tide pools won’t disappoint. But before you go exploring, it’s a good idea to know what’s what in terms of certain creatures. Particularly the pricklier ones. By that we mean sea urchins. Some are harmless, some are venomous, and some are just poky enough to cause trouble if you step on them. Here’s a basic guide to the most common sea urchins of Hawaii.


Echinometra mathaei – Rock Boring Urchin: This is the most common urchin that you’ll find in tide pools all around Maui. They come in one of two colors. One is a olive green, while the other is mauve. They aren’t venomous, but their short, tapering spines are sharp enough at the tips that they would be painful to step on, so tread carefully. On the plus side, they carve their way into the rocky pools so each one is nestled into its own depression. This helps protect you from them, and them from you! They’re also among the smaller urchins, normally growing to just 4-6 cm, but 15 cm specimens have been found.

Echinometra oblonga – Black Boring Urchin: This species is almost identical to the last one. Their size range is exactly the same, and so is their shape. They are found in the same kind of habitat and bore their way into rocks the same way. In fact, the only difference is that this species is black in color, or a very dark purple. They are also non venomous.

Tripneustes gratilla – Collector Urchin: This species could almost be mistaken for the Black Boring Urchin, but they have some very distinct differences. Although they share a very similar black/dark purple color, their spines are much shorter and finer, sometimes tipped with white or pink. Despite their short spines, they are larger on average, growing to about 10 cm. You’re most likely to see them in reef flats, but they can be found in a variety of other places. They earned their name because of their tendency to pick up objects like pebbles and shells

Colobocentrotus atratus – Shingle Urchin: This species is unmistakable and very easy to identify. Its spines aren’t sharp and pointing in all directions. Instead, they’re shaped like little paddles, and lay flat like protective scales. These urchins are armored for surge zones, so you’ll often find them on rocks along rough shorelines. They tend to be dark purple in color, and generally range from 4 to 6 cm in diameter, but can grow up to 9 cm.

Heterocentrotus mammillatus – Slate Pencil Urchin: This species is delightful to behold. They boast long, blunt, red spines that can be as thick as fingers. Because their spine tips are so blunt, they’re especially benign, and their bold reddish hues add some extra vibrancy to the reefs where they live. It’s not just their color that stands out, but their size as well. This species grows to a remarkable 20 cm in diameter.

Chondrocidaris gigantae – Rough Spined Urchin: These are somewhat similar to the Slate Pencil Urchin in that they both feature long, blunt spines like pencils. In this species, however, the spines are covered with rough, thorny projections, and they grow somewhat larger, at 25 cm in diameter. They are also found in holes on the reef, but sometimes at a greater depth. Their coloration is mottled red and cream on the body, which comprises the exoskeleton known as the “test,” while the spines tends to match whatever is growing on the reef, as a camouflage strategy.

Echinothrix calamaris – Banded Sea Urchin (Wana): These last two species are the venomous kind, so you’ll want to take care to steer clear and admire them from a safe distance. Typically found in holes on the reef, this species can be distinguished by the rich green hues of its long needle-thin spines. The green color varies from light to dark shades, and they bear distinct bands that make each spine look striped. The spines are also covered with small spinelets, and they sting. They can also grow up to 15 cm in diameter, which helps to make them especially easy to spot.

Echinothrix diadema – Black Sea Urchin (Wana): This species is closely related and therefor similar to the last, but more common. Its coloration is black in adulthood, but younger specimens also bear bands on their spines, and often share the green hues of their relatives, so the two species are often mistaken for each other at a young age. Although their adult color is black rather than green, they have the very long, needle-thin spines in common. Both species grow to 15 cm in diameter, and both can be found in holes in the reef.


We hope these descriptions are enough to get you started as you learn about the many fascinating creatures that can be found while snorkeling Maui and exploring the tide pools. We hope you have a safe and memorable experience! If you join us aboard a snorkeling boat tour, you can count on us to share our knowledge with you. Mahalo!