Marine Life on Oahu

While people-watching on Oahu is certainly interesting, it can’t compare to the excitement of spotting our colorful underwater residents. From yellow butterfly fish that dart among the rocks to benevolent green sea turtles, it’s easy to see these fascinating locals while snorkeling, scuba diving, or without even getting wet.

Monk Seals

A beachside stroll to the Leahi (Diamond Head) end of Waikiki takes you to the Waikiki Aquarium, a living showcase dedicated to the Pacific Ocean aqua system. Among their many highlights is a pair of often sleepy, but occasionally boisterous Hawaiian monk seals. The Hawaiian monk seal is on the Federal endangered list and according to some sources, there are only about 1,100 left in the wild. If you think their faces are puppy-like you’re in good company. Their Hawaiian name is ilio-holo-i-ka-uaua or “dog that runs in rough water.”

Humpback Whales (Kohola)

If you’re in Hawaii between late November and early May, keep your eye on the coastline for water spouts. Every winter, thousands of kohola migrate to our warm waters to breed and nurse their calves. One of the best vantage points for whale-watching is from the scenic Makapuu Lighthouse trail. (We recommend binoculars, a hat, sunscreen and lots of water.)

Spinner Dolphins (Naia)

Hawaii’s sleek naia are playful creatures. They race alongside boats and you’ll swear they’re winking at you as they go by. Once in a while the naia will even show off and leap in the air with a twist. Best odds to see them in the wild are while boating on the North Shore, Waianae coast or Maunalua Bay.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Honu)

These gentle creatures are among Hawaii’s most beloved. If you’re snorkeling, they’ll coast on by as if they've known you all their lives. Once plentiful, Honu also on the Federal endangered list, so if you’re snorkeling, please kokua (help out) and admire them from afar.


There are a lot of fish in the sea, and if you’d like to meet them up close, start at Hanauma Bay. Located on the south side of the island, it’s a natural cove-turned-marine preserve and perfect for the newbie snorkeler. If you prefer to stay dry, Sea Life Park’s 300,000-gallon Hawaiian Reef Tank offers a cross section of the ocean, from reef fishes to the sharks.

Whether you’re an ocean aficionado or just want to get your toes wet, check out our Oahu Water Activities page for more great ocean activities.