One of the questions we get asked most frequently on the water at Sail Maui is “Will we see dolphins?”

Our answer?

We hope so.

Something about the innate cuteness and playful behavior of dolphins tends to bring out the kid in all of us. No matter who is on board, when we see a pod of dolphins EVERYONE is excited, especially the crew.

spinner dolphins on sail maui

Spinner dolphins surf the bow of Paragon on our Lana’i sail

Quite a few types of dolphins can be found in the sub-tropical waters around Hawaii. Spinners, bottlenose, spotted, and the less common rough tooth dolphins can be seen, though the type we encounter most often are the Hawaiian spinner dolphins. These guys favor shallow bays and often hang out close to shore. There are resident pods all through the islands, and fortunately for us, we share a favorite local hang out; picturesque Manele Bay.

If you’re sailing with us to Molokini, the chances of seeing dolphins is pretty slim. We have seen them cruising through Ma’alaea Bay, but much less frequently than spotting a pod off the coast of Lana’i. That said, if you’re joining us for our Lana’i Beach Picnic sail, the odds are in your favor although we can never guarantee a sighting. Dolphins are wild animals; they’re just doing what they do in their natural habitat, and often we’re lucky enough to witness it.

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

The spinner dolphins got their name because, yes, they spin! They are known to leap out of the water and hurl themselves in multiple rotations before splashing back below the surface. These graceful cetaceans sometimes do this while bow riding and never seem to miss a beat. Why do they spin? There’s a few different theories, like perhaps they’re dislodging parasites, or engaging in some form of communication. But that’s like asking us why do we backflip of the boat? Or even hang out on the boat at all? We’re pretty sure the most likely theory of all is that it’s fun. If you could do it, wouldn’t you?

hawaiian spinner dolphins

While there are spinner dolphins in oceans across the globe, the Hawaiian spinners are a unique sub-species that are only found here in Hawaii and no other place on the planet. Much smaller than the more familiar bottlenose dolphins, spinners typically only weigh about 150 lbs and fully grown measure between 5 to 7 feet in length. Nocturnal by nature, the dolphins hunt in pods during the night for small schooling fish and rest in nearshore waters and shallow bays during the day.

The south-west coast along Lana’i is home to a pod of these incredible creatures. The shallow, sandy, and protected water at both Hulopo’e beach and Manele Bay makes for a great resting spot for the dolphins. As soon as we encounter the spinners, the question we hear next is always, “Can we swim with them?!” Our answer to that; we wish. But studies have shown that too much interference and interaction from humans can disrupt a dolphins natural sleep cycle, and according to the marine mammal protection act, this is considered harassment. Occasionally, only on incredibly special, everyone-on-the-boat-has-amazing-dolphin-karma kind of days, the dolphins decide to swim with us. It’s rare, but magnificent.

lanai dolphin sail snorkel

There are plenty of reasons to love Maui, but somewhere near the top of the list is the fact that Maui County is one of the few places in the world where the captivity of dolphins or any marine mammal is illegal! While we certainly enjoy our fare share of entertainment from the dolphins surfing our bow or demonstrating through wild acrobatics how they got the name “spinners”; we consider ourselves privileged to be able to witness them wild, behaving naturally for their own fun and not solely for our enjoyment. This is nothing like Sea World! You can find out more on why captivity is dangerous here.