The Hawaiian Islands hosts many mammal species throughout its waters. Many types of whales and dolphins hang out in the beautiful coastal waters seasonally or year round. On your next trip to Maui, make sure you look out for these beautiful creatures!


Humpback whales

The star of the show in Maui is of course the humpback whale known as koholā in Hawaiian. These whales that grow up to 45 feet long migrate from Alaska every year during the winter to mate and calve. These gentle giants have made a huge comeback since they were listed as critically endangered in the 1970s and have since been removed from the endangered species list! Humpbacks can be seen frolicking in the channels around Maui, swimming with their calves and breaching for fun. This mammal’s presence in Hawaii is deeply entwined in Hawaiian culture and ecosystem. Their beautiful songs can be heard from up to 20 miles away so the next time you’re in Maui listen for them in the water! 

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

In Hawaii these dolphins tend to stay near shore in large schools (yes schools not pods) so they are easily spotted from beaches and boats. This playful species gets its name from its ability to spin multiple times in the air. These smaller acrobatic dolphins regularly feed and hunt with other species so they are commonly seen around other whales and dolphins. These playful mammals dive to deeper depths during the day to hunt and shallower waters in the early morning and night to rest. There are a number of known resting spots for this species around the Hawaiian islands and it is important to let them rest in these areas as human interaction can disrupt their resting. Make sure to book a tour instead to see these beautiful creatures!

Bottlenose Dolphin

These beautiful mammals are much larger than the commonly seen spinner dolphins and just as joyful! These dolphins have very large brains and heightened intelligence often warning humans of dangers in the area such as sharks. Bottlenose dolphins can eat up to 22 pounds of fish per day! This larger species can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes but typically surfaces for air two to three times per minute making them a common sight from boats. While it has not been observed in Maui, some members of these species have been known to use tools such as marine sponges to protect their bellies while fishing in shallow waters. These beautiful creatures make a wonderful addition to the sea life found in Maui.

Hawaiian Monk Seal

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of only 2 endemic mammal species found in Hawaii, the other one being the Hawaiian bat. The Hawaiian word for the monk seal is ‘ilio holo i ka uaua, which means dog that runs through the waves. What a mouthful! These seals can become quite large, and when they are hunting for fish and squids they can be found lounging on beaches sunning themselves. Most of their small population can be found in Papahānaumokuākea, a protected marine reserve in the Northwestern Hawaiian islands. However, a few of them can be seen in the waters off Maui or resting on the beaches in Lahaina. If you see one make sure to keep your distance, while they look friendly they are known to be aggressive towards humans. Stay at least 30 feet away to enjoy their cuteness!

False Killer Whales

The next most commonly spotted whale in Hawaii is the False Killer Whale. While their name suggests they are whales, they are actually members of the dolphin family. Unlike Humpback whales which are baleen whales, False Killer Whales have large teeth to hunt fish and squids. Their population in Hawaii is small at only around 200 making them a beautiful sight to see!


These are just a few examples of marine mammals that can be seen in Maui waters. Other species include the short finned pilot whale, dwarf sperm whales, cuvier’s beaked whale, and multiple species of dolphins. While these species are more rare, they are still a treat to spot on your trip to Maui!