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Top 10 Wildlife in Hawaii

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Welcome to the Wild World of Hawaii!

Hawaii, the ultimate vacation spot known for its sun-soaked beaches and jaw-dropping mountains, has more to offer than just stunning scenery. Brace yourself for a wild ride as we uncover the mysterious and marvelous wildlife of the Aloha State!

Hawaii Island Animals Around the Globe

Grab your coconut-shaped binoculars and follow the breadcrumbs below to navigate this quirky blog, or just go with the flow and let the waves of humor carry you away!

Key points

SpeciesKey Points
Spinner Dolphins– Known for spinning leaps out of water
– Rest in shallow bays during the day
– Hunt for fish at night
– Live in resident pods
Spotted Dolphins– Resemble spinner dolphins
– Have white-tipped beaks and spotted color patterns
– Explore channels between islands
– Often found in schools
Bottlenose Dolphins– Larger, uniformly gray dolphins with blunter rostrum
– Engage in playful activities like bow riding
– Intelligent and high on the oceanic food chain
– Seen in smaller pods or groups
Hawaiian Hoary Bat– Endangered species with unique wing shape
(Ōpe‘ape‘a)– Nocturnal and solitary tree roosters
– Hard to study due to size and elusiveness
– Studied using ultrasonic bat detectors
Hawaiian Monk Seal– Rarest seal species, critically endangered
– Found only in Hawaii
– Visitors advised to keep a distance
– Seal pups are vulnerable and must not be disturbed
Indian Mongoose– Non-native species introduced to control rats
– Preys on native bird populations
Axis Deer and Mule Deer– Introduced species, not native to Hawaii
– Axis deer on Lanai, mule deer on Kauai
Feral Wallaby– Wallabies introduced as zoo exhibits, became feral
– Feral population in Oahu’s Kalihi Valley
– Classified as Near Threatened
Hawksbill Sea Turtle– Critically endangered species
– Known for feeding on sea sponges
– Targeted for shells, contributing to endangered status
Seabirds of Hawaii– Hawaiian birds divided into seabirds and forest birds
– Seabirds include albatross, frigate birds, noddies, shearwaters, and tropic birds
– Many Hawaiian bird species threatened due to human impact

Dolphins in Hawaii

dolphin near the coastline

Here are three Dolphin species you can sport in Hawaii:

  • Spinner Dolphin
  • Spotted Dolphin
  • Bottlenose Dolphin

You can read more about where to swim with dolphins with our dedicated article, and if you are even more curious you can read all about how dolphins use echolocation to navigate the ocean!

Spinner Dolphins

YouTube video

Meet the Superstar Swimmers: Spinner Dolphins!

Now, hold your breath, folks, because we’re about to dive into the world of the ocean’s most famous performers: the spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris). These charismatic creatures are the VIPs of the Hawaiian wildlife scene, and boy, do they know how to put on a show!

Picture this: after a night of gourmet feasting in the deep waters, these small, long-beaked dolphins gracefully make their way to the near-shore areas to catch some well-deserved daytime R&R. And guess what? You’re invited to witness their beachy hangout sessions!

But that’s not all—these dolphins have a party trick up their fins. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any cooler, they go ahead and pull off mind-boggling spins. I’m not talking about pirouettes on a dance floor, my friends; I’m talking about spinning around their own axis up to six times in a single leap out of the water. Talk about being the life of the oceanic party!

You can catch these dazzling dolphins in resident pods around the main Hawaiian islands. During the day, they kick back and relax in the shallow bays, soaking up the sun like true beach bums. But don’t be fooled by their laid-back vibes because, come nighttime, they transform into stealthy hunters on the prowl for small schooling fish. They’ve got their own version of a midnight snack, and it’s quite the spectacle!

So, pack your sunscreen, grab your snorkel gear, and get ready for an aquatic extravaganza with the spinner dolphins. They’ll leave you spinning with joy and wondering why humans can’t pull off those impressive water acrobatics.

Spotted Dolphins

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin. Credit: Marie C. Hill

Meet the Lookalikes: Spotted Dolphins!

Ladies and gentlemen, hold on to your snorkels because we’re about to dive into the dazzling world of the spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata). Now, pay close attention because these guys are experts at playing hide-and-seek with our eyes!

At first glance, you might mistake them for their famous cousins, the spinner dolphins. They’re like long-lost twins who share an uncanny resemblance. However, there are a couple of key differences that set the spotted dolphins apart and make them stand out from the crowd.

As they gracefully glide through the ocean, you’ll notice a white-tipped beak. It’s their own unique fashion statement that adds a touch of flair to their appearance. And that’s not all—mature spotted dolphins flaunt a stunning spotted color pattern on their bodies. Move over, leopard print; the ocean’s got its own fashion trendsetter!

While the spinner dolphins love their near-shore chill sessions, the spotted dolphins are all about exploring the channels between the islands. They’re the oceanic adventurers, always on the move and ready for the next great dolphin expedition.

Now, here’s a fun fact that might leave you wide-eyed: spotted and spinner dolphins are often “spotted” together in schools ranging from small cliques to whopping gatherings of hundreds. They’re the ocean’s party animals, and they’re not afraid to make a splash!

Bottlenose Dolphins

Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are distinguishable from spotted and spinner dolphins by their much larger size, uniformly gray coloration, and thicker, blunter rostrum.

They are usually seen in smaller pods or groups of less than ten individuals. Intelligent and high up on the oceanic food chain, dolphins engage in playful activities, including bow riding, where they surf in front of a boat or even a whale’s bow wave.

Hawaiian Hoary Bat – Hawaii’s only Native Land Mammal

Under cover of night, a skilled hunter twists and turns in the Hawaiian sky, darting and dodging trees with the acrobatic skill to catch dinner.  Little is known about this hunter: scientists don’t have an estimate of its population size, and outside of the scientific community, few people even realize that Native Hawaiian bats exist.

Before the arrival of humans, other species traveled to Hawai‘i one of three ways: on the wind, via water, or by wing (either flying here themselves or being carried by a winged creature). It follows that the only native land mammal would bear wings.

bat in germany

Ōpe‘ape‘a is a subspecies of the North American hoary bat. Found only in Hawaii, it’s listed as a federally endangered species. Its Hawaiian name means “half-leaf” and refers to the bat’s open wing, which resembles the bottom half of a taro leaf.

Bat Colonizers

Ōpe‘ape‘a is more common than most people realize, but researchers have only recently begun to study this species more closely. Genetic evidence indicates that bats colonized the Hawaiian Islands in the not-too-distant past—first arriving approximately 10,000 years ago, with a second colonization as late as 800 years ago.

Like all bats, ōpe‘ape‘a are nocturnal, but you won’t find them roosting in caves. These bats are solitary tree roosters, attaching themselves to the tips of branches on a tall tree.  Weighing in at only ½ oz, these little acrobats are hard to find and even harder to study. Mist nets, used to catch and study songbirds, are ineffective when catching bats, as the tiny mammal quickly learns to avoid the net. Beautiful Wildlife in Hawaii.

The most effective way to detect ‘ōpe‘ape‘a is with ultrasonic bat detectors that pick up the bats’ vocalizations as they travel and hunt. Recent improvements in ultrasonic detection technology have made bats easier to study, and researchers in Hawai‘i are working on learning more about these mysterious mammals.

On Hawai‘i Island, researchers detected ‘ōpe‘ape‘a more frequently during the summer at lower elevations, possibly because food is abundant during the summer at lower elevations or because the warmer temperatures mean less stress for newborns and lactating mothers. Mother ‘ōpe‘ape‘a gives birth to pups, typically one set of twins, in May or June and stays with the pups until they are 6-7 weeks old.

Bat Pups

When the pups are young, the mother will carry them with her on her nightly hunts. When they are old enough to hold on to the roosting site themselves, she will leave them safe in the tree until they are old enough to fly with her and learn to hunt. ‘Ōpe‘ape‘a’s diet is primarily moths but includes mosquitoes, beetles, crickets, and termites.

When temperatures began to cool, researchers on Hawai‘i  Island found increased bat activity at higher elevations. It is still uncertain whether that means they “migrate” up and down the mountain. Even movement between islands is unknown, but bats are on all the central Hawaiian Islands, so inter-island movement occurred in the past.

On Maui, researchers know ‘ōpe‘ape‘a are in Haleakalā National Park, both at the summit and in the crater. Flying insectivores are often spotted at sea level as well. There is a good chance they are in your neighborhood.

When and How to Spot Them

Look for bats at twilight, particularly along pasture edges, pastures, and clearings. Bats dart back and forth as they catch insects, whereas the rare birds returning to roost take a direct path.

The threats to ‘ōpe‘ape‘a are not yet clear, but one cause of death are collisions with man-made objects such as communication towers, wind turbines, and barbed wire. This may happen as the bats catch an insect and “turn off” their echolocation for a few seconds to eat.

You can help protect this endangered species. If you know you have ‘ōpe‘ape‘a in your area, protect roosting sites–don’t cut tall trees until after the pupping summer season. 

However, if installing a fence in a pasture, consider using barbless wire on the top strand to prevent snagging a hunting bat. If you find a dead bat on Maui, contact Fern Duvall, Wildlife Biologist with the Department of Land and Natural Resources, at 873-3502. You can help scientists learn more about the genetics and habits of this cryptic creature—far more spectacular than spooky.

Hawaiian Monk Seal And Northern Elephant Seal

Two pesky juvenile sealions

The rarest seal species on Earth, with only about a few hundred remaining, the endemic Hawaiian monk seal is found only in Hawaii. If lucky, you might spot this seal basking in the Hawaiian sun, lying on a beach in Hawaii.

Furthermore, Visitors are requested to respect the privacy of these creatures and to please not disturb them or approach them too close. Constantly maintaining a minimum distance of 45 meters to them on the beach. These seals come to the shore to bask, rest, or give birth. Seal pups are particularly vulnerable and must not be disturbed at all.

These Hawaiian monk seals are particularly susceptible to canine pathogens; hence, pets must not be allowed to interact with these species. The northern elephant seal is named so for its relatively large size and the proboscis of the males of this species using which they make loud, roaring noises. Unlike the Hawaiian monk seal, the northern elephant seal has a more widespread distribution and is not immediately threatened.

The Indian Mongoose


The Indian mongoose is a non-native species in Hawaii. It was introduced to the archipelago in 1883 from India to control the rat population in the sugar plantations of Hawaii. The mongoose population soon grew rapidly and today is widespread across Hawaii. They are weasel-like creatures with a length of about 26 inches, a tail as long as its brownish body, a pointed nose, and rounded ears.

Introducing the mongoose to Hawaii was a large mistake since the animal heavily predated on the ground-nesting birds, bird hatchlings, eggs, and endangered island turtles. Large populations of the Hawaiian crow, Hawaiian goose, and other endemic birds of the archipelago have been lost due to predation by the Indian mongoose.

Axis Deer And Mule Deer 


The axis deer or chital, native to the Indian subcontinent, are well-known for their spotted coat. As well as its docile nature and graceful gait. This animal has always been in high demand in countries worldwide.

Though not native to Hawaii, it also finds its place in our “What Animals Live In Hawaii?” list. This deer was introduced first in Hawaii when King Kamehameha V received a gift from Hong Kong. The king was the ruler of the Kingdom of Hawaii (1863 to 1872). Today, the Hawaiian island of Lanai houses a large population of the axis deer.  That makes wildlife in Hawaii so special!

A deer species indigenous to western parts of North America. Humans introduced the mule deer to the Kauai Island of Hawaii. Presently, a large population of this deer species also exists in Hawaii.

Feral Wallaby 


Wallabies were introduced in Hawaii by humans.

Wallabies are small to mid-sized macropods native to New Guinea and Australia. In Hawaii, humans introduced these wallabies as exhibits in a Hawaiian zoo.

In 1916, a small population of brush-tailed rock-wallaby managed to escape the zoo. As these animals bred outside in the wild, a feral population of these creatures was established. Today, these wild wallabies can be found in Oahu Island’s Kalihi Valley. These animals are classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN.

Hawksbill Sea Turtle 

Turtle looking to the camera, followed by some silver fish

A hawksbill sea turtle swimming among the corals in the sea off the Hawaiian coast.

Hawaii is the home of the critically endangered hawksbill sea turtle. Hawksbill sea turtles prefer to feast on sea sponges and therefore can often be found in coral reefs. However, the hawksbill sea turtle moves around frequently, frequently changing its location in the ocean. Unfortunately, these defenseless turtles have been relentlessly targeted for their decorative shells and are now critically endangered. Fantastic to see this wildlife in Hawaii.

Hawksbill turtles are currently classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN. The IUCN is the global authority on the status of the natural world. Alongside Kemp’s Ridley’s, they are believed to be the most endangered of the seven sea turtle species. There are only approximately 8,000 nesting females left globally.

Hawaiian Black Crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticoras) or Auku’u perched on a lava rock. It is in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Hawaii as it hunts for fish. How incredible is the Wildlife in Hawaii?

Seabirds of Hawaii


Speaking of “What Animals Live In Hawaii?” we need to mention the unique sea and of this Archipelago. Hawaii was once the epicenter of endemism, with about 113 endemic bird species. However, today the birds of Hawaii are the most threatened species on the planet. Unfortunately, since the arrival of humans, the archipelago has lost seventy-one bird species. Forty-eight before and twenty-three after the arrival of the Europeans.

Interestingly, Hawaiian birds may be classified as sea birds and forest birds. This depends on the habitat of these avians. Laysan albatross, great frigate birds, noddies, shearwaters, and red and white-tailed tropic birds are some of the seabirds of Hawaii.

Summary of Wildlife in Hawaii

YouTube video

I hope you have enjoyed this blog and have learned a thing or two about Wildlife in Hawaii! There is so much to discover beyond the beautiful mountains and beaches. If you enjoyed this blog, you might be interested in the US in general or in Wildlife in Colorado.

After reading that blog, we are sure you’re keen on adventuring in Hawaii! If you want to go diving with dolphins, take a look at

Dolphin Excursions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What kind of wildlife is found in Hawaii?

Hawaii is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including marine species like dolphins, sea turtles, and seals, as well as various bird species and introduced mammals like deer and mongoose.

What wild predators are in Hawaii?

Hawaii does not have native land predators like big cats or wolves. The only native land mammal is the Hawaiian hoary bat. However, introduced species like feral cats and rats have become predators and pose threats to native wildlife.

What are the biggest wild animals in Hawaii?

The biggest wild animals in Hawaii include marine species like humpback whales, which migrate to Hawaiian waters, and the Hawaiian monk seal, which is the largest native seal species in the region.

Are there poisonous creatures in Hawaii?

Hawaii has relatively few poisonous creatures. While some introduced species like the brown widow spider and certain species of centipedes can deliver painful bites, the overall risk of encountering poisonous creatures in Hawaii is low compared to other regions.

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