Marine Life on Hawaii’s Big Island
From indigenous marine life to friendly seasonal visitors, the warm waters of Hawaii’s Big Island are home to a variety of sea animals that can be discovered easily—if you know where to look.
Manta Rays (Hahalua)
The mysterious manta ray is one of the largest fish in the ocean with wingspans of up to 6 metres or more. However, unlike stingrays or eagle rays, mantas do not have stingers. The Kona Coast is the best place to spot friendly manta rays at night. You can see them attracted to the spotlights in the waters off resorts like the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel and Sheraton Kona Resort & Spa at Keauhou Bay, just south of Historic Kailua Village (Kailua-Kona). Or to get up close and personal, book a manta ray boat tour to snorkel or scuba-dive with manta rays. This may be one of the most memorable adventures you experience on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Humpback Whales (Kohola)
Thousands of humpback whales visit the warm waters of Hawaii every year between November and March. Migrating from seas as far as Alaska, these gentle giants partake in the longest seasonal migration of any mammal.
During the winter months you can spot whales along the Kohala Coast, off the shores of North Kohala, and in Hilo Bay to the east. Historic Puukohola Heiau near Kawaihae Harbor literally means “hill of the whale,” and is still a popular whale watching spot today. Take a whale watching boat tour during the winter months for the best encounters. Seeing a massive humpback whale breach the sea is an incredible sight.
Spinner Dolphins (Naia)
Spinner dolphins are common throughout Hawaii and pods of these acrobatic marine mammals can frequently be seen off the south Kona Coast on Hawaii’s Big Island. Spinner dolphins are aptly named for their ability to spin as they leap out of the water. Seeing these playful animals ride in the wake of your boat is an unforgettable — and not uncommon — experience.
Green Turtles (Honu)
Although they are a threatened species, Hawaiian green sea turtles, or honu, are the most common sea turtle found in Hawaii. You can see large honu swimming along the southern Kona Coast or resting on the sands of Kahaluu Beach and Punaluu Black Sand Beach in Kau. Because these are a protected species, it is important not to touch the honu.
Hawaii’s abundant waters are home to a variety of fish. In fact, roughly 20% of fish species in Hawaii are unique to the islands. From the bandit angelfish to Hawaii’s state fish the humuhumunukunukuapuaa (which ironically isn’t endemic), snorkellers and divers will be richly rewarded in their exploration of the Kona Coast, which is known for its calm and clear waters.