Dolphins, Sharks and Whales You May See in Maui

January 8, 2018

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.

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.

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.

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

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