The Top 10 Most Interesting Animals in Hawaii

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The animals in Hawaii are truly unique.  Not only is Hawaii one of the most diverse landscapes in the world, but is also the most isolated.  As a result, the variety of wildlife here is quite diverse.

If you’re planning a trip to Hawaii, or even if you live here but don’t get into nature much, it’s worth knowing the unique and interesting animals that populate these islands.  To help you out, we’ve compiled this list of the top 10 most interesting animals in Hawaii. Be sure to check them out the next time you’re in the mountains or in the ocean.

1. Hawaiian Monk Seal

Neomonachus schauinslandi

There are only two mammals native to the island of Hawaii. One is the Hawaiian monk seal, the state mammal of Hawaii. These seals can be hard to find and almost went extinct in the 1990’s. Since that time, they have bounced back. Seals can weigh anywhere from 400-600 pounds, and can be up to 8 feet in length.  The Hawaiian Monk Seal is one of only two remaining species of monk seals in the world.  The other is the Mediterranean Monk Seal.  Unfortunately the third species, the Caribbean Monk Seal, has gone extinct.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the Hawaiian monk seal, you can do so by taking a wildlife tour. Sightings are not guaranteed, but if you’re lucky you just might spot the graceful animal.  We’ve even been able to do so during our Dolphins and You tours, which is always a big treat for our guests!

2. Hawaiian Hoary Bat

Lasiurus cinereus

Hoary bat Lasiurus cinereus.jpg
By Photographer: Paul Cryan, U.S. Geological Survey –, Public Domain, Link

The other mammal that is native to the Hawaiian islands is the Hawaiian Hoary bat. These types of bats are their own species, although they are closely related to the Hoary Bats in North, Central and  South America.  There are also species of Hoary bats on the Galapagos Islands!

3. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Chelonia mydas

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle

These large sea turtles are known as “Honu” by the locals, and can be found in shallow waters near the shore. Two popular places for seeing these turtles are the North Shore, and Laniakea Beach.

These turtles are friendly, and if you’re snorkeling in these areas, one might just come up right next to you.  Be careful, though!  These are protected species, and it is illegal to touch them (plus a $2,000 fine).

4. Humpback Whale

Megaptera novaeangliae

Whale breaching - Dolphins and You - And You Creations
A whale breaching out of the water

The Humpback whale was almost hunted out of existence in the 90’s, but since becoming an endangered and protected species, they have been making a comeback.  Fortunately, the future shown in Star Trek IV where whales have gone extinct will not come to pass.

Here in Hawaii, whale watching is quite the experience.  Since they migrate to their Hawaiian breeding grounds every year between November and April, this is the perfect place to see these amazing animals.

Humpbacks vary in length, anywhere from 39 to 52 feet. For reference, that is about half the size of an NBA basketball court! Not only are they long, but they’re also incredibly heavy. Average whales weigh anywhere from 50,000- 79,000 pounds. Although not the largest mammal in the ocean (that would be the Blue Whale Balaenoptera musculus), Humpbacks are an amazing sight.


5. Manta Ray

Manta birostris

Manta ray from Yap.jpg
By Bartek.cieslak at pl.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

You’ve likely seen a sting ray in an aquarium, but something you likely won’t see is a Manta Ray. These rays are simply too large to live in most aquariums. They range in size from 18 to 23 feet in width, which is half the length of a humpback whale.

Hawaii offers a wide variety of diving excursions for you to see the manta ray. Usually these excursions run around $100.  You can also see manta rays during our Dolphins and You tour … if you’re lucky!

6. Nene Goose

Branta sandvicensis

Nene Hawaiian Goose.jpg
By Dan Culver (Samsonthebeast) – Own work, GFDL, Link

Hawaii’s state bird is the Nene Goose.  (Not to be confused with the Nae Nae dance.)

It is the rarest goose in the world! (unlike the Nae Nae, which seems to be everywhere.)

While it was once more common in Hawaii, its population has slowly decreased. The species almost went extinct in the middle part of the 20th century. Because of this, these birds are hard to find, and you will likely only see them if you’re on Kauai or the Big Island.

7. Mongoose

Herpestes javanicus

Mongoose - Herpestes ichneumon.jpg
By Artemy VoikhanskyOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Mongoose were released onto the islands in the 1800s to decrease the rat population. The mongoose is Hawaii’s replacement for squirrels. Hawaii has no squirrels, but the mongoose is a similar replacement, at least in looks.

Unfortunately, the mongoose has had negative effects on the bird population and is considered an invasive species since they often eat birds and bird eggs.

Regardless, you can often spot mongoose around bushes and on mountainsides, or scurrying across roads on their way to cause mischief.

8. Chameleon

Trioceros jacksonii

Jackson's Chameleon 2 edit1.jpg
By Movingsaletoday edited by MuhammadOwn work, Public Domain, Link

The chameleon came into the wild in Hawaii in the early 1970s and is considered an invasive species. While there are no special tours to see chameleons, you can still spot them while hiking. The three-horned Jackson Chameleons (also known as the Kikuyu Three Horned Chameleon) is originally native to East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania, mostly), but has since been introduced to Hawaii, Florida and California.

As you may already know, chameleons are able to blend in by changing their color. You just might have to look a little hard to spot them!  You can tell which ones are males since they are the ones with the three horns.

9. Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin

Stenella longirostris

Unlike the well-known but less common Bottlenose Dolphin, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are the less aggressive, friendlier members of the dolphin family.  And Hawaii is one of the best places in the world to see and experience dolphins in their natural habitat.

Watch Dolphins in Pristine Hawaiian Waters!

Join a Dolphins and You Begin the day with an authentic Hawaiian chant and encounter wild dolphins in Oahu. Then relax on the boat or enjoy ocean activities, like stand up paddle boarding. Our energetic crew will entertain you with hula performances and share Aloha with complimentary snacks.

They are called spinners for their tendency to jump out of the water and spin around.  The Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are one of four species of spinner dolphins in the world.  Other variations are found in the Eastern Pacific, Central America / Costa Rica, and the Gulf of Thailand.

10. Sharks

Galeocerdo cuvier, Triaenodon obesus, and others

By Albert kok, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Yes, there are sharks everywhere, but that doesn’t make them less interesting! Hawaii is a great place to shark-see, as there are over 41 species of sharks in Hawaiian waters. You can find a ton of different species in Hawaii. Tiger, bull, hammerhead, and many more are present here.  The white-tip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus) is a common species in Hawaii.

You will definitely want to take a guided tour or dive when going to shark-see. Many tour providers offer a caged experience for safety. During this tour you’re put into an underwater cage, and the sharks swim right up to you.  Definitely an intense experience!

Want to see some Hawaiian wildlife?

Hawaii’s diverse environment allows for animals not found anywhere else in the world.  Whether you’re interested in humpback whales, spinner dolphins or the monk seal, Hawaii offers something for everyone.

If you want to see them in person, then be sure to join one of our tours.  For the ocean-dwelling species join our Dolphins and You tour.  If you want to see things in the jungle, the check out our Nature and You tour where we hike through the Manoa Falls Trail.  Or, join the Island and You tour for an island-wide introduction to Oahu’s history, culture, food and wildlife.

Whatever you decide, you’re sure to see some amazing and interesting animals in Hawaii!

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