The Hawaiian Islands stretch 1,500 miles from the Big Island of Hawai‘i to Kure Atoll, the far northern end of the archipelago. If you were to make that journey, along the way you could touch down on 137 different islands, atolls, and rocky seamounts. And while the lands of the main Hawaiian Islands are blessed with rich plains and lush, blooming forests, it is the abundant marine life teeming in our waters that made Hawai‘i such an inviting home for Polynesian explorers. Visitors today can experience this richness and diversity of sea life in Hawaii for themselves, from the colorful reef fish schooling to the playful spinner dolphins and majestic humpback whales that bask in the warm shallow water between islands.
The Hawaiian Islands are the tops of massive volcanoes. Even today, the volcanoes on the Big Island remain active, and a new island – Lōihi – is currently being formed deep beneath the surface. Over the millennia, these undersea giants rose above the waves and were fringed with coral reefs, providing “cities” and habitat, a waystation for migrating fish and marine mammals in the middle of the ocean 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. This tropical isolation resulted in a large number of fish species native only to Hawai‘i.
Our reefs are full of colorful residents, making them popular Hawaii attractions that are easily explored by snorkel or SCUBA. You will marvel at the incredible palette of these undersea creatures, from vibrant yellow tang to the brilliantly colored spots and speckles of our dozens of native butterfly fish in every color of the rainbow. Across the reef, silvery flashes of schooling fish are broken up by the incandescent blues of hunting ulua, while peeking your head under the overhangs and boulders will reveal the deep reds of snappers and soldier fish as await the cover of night. Richly colored angel fish mingle with drabber, but no less curious schools of goat fish and striped convict tangs, floating just out of reach as they investigate your intrusion into their domain. Out of the corner of your eye you might even see the flash of a white-tip reef shark as it lazily cruises the reef in search of a lava tube to rest in until nightfall.
Up Close and Personal with Sea Life in Hawaii
Hawai‘i’s larger ocean residents can be viewed up close as well. Tour operators will take you whale watching or snorkeling with playful spinner dolphins that just might race alongside your boat, challenging you to keep up. Green sea turtles are common sights in our waters, even as they find themselves on the endangered species list. If you crave a thrill, you can jump into shark-filled waters – just try to land in the submerged cage! From behind bars you will feel your heart pound as the gray shadows of reef sharks, Galapagos sharks, sandbar sharks, and – if you’re lucky – the occasional tiger shark emerge from the depths.
For those who want to enjoy sea life in Hawaii without getting wet, Sea Life Park in Waimānalo (1 hour drive from Ko Olina) and Waikīkī aquarium feature colorful exhibits, massive ocean tanks that are cross-sections of our natural reefs, and marine mammals like monk seals and dolphins. One thing is for sure, if you only explore O‘ahu on land, you are missing out on half the fun. Scout out your snorkel trips, book your SCUBA charter, or reserve a whale watching cruise today, and enjoy all the Hawaii attractions you can while visiting Oahu!