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When is the Best Time to See Hawaii Marine Life?

a small boat in a body of water

One of the most exciting parts of a Hawaiian getaway is seeing all of the beautiful wildlife around the islands. Colorful birds roost in the trees, and you can find various animals in the forests. However, the island of Kauai is home to some incredible marine life.

Tropical fish, dolphins, humpback whales, and more can be found in the waters around Kauai throughout the year. But there are certain times of the year when you’re more likely to encounter some of these beautiful creatures. We’ve rounded up our list of favorite marine wildlife around Kauai and the best times of year to see them.

When To Whale Go Watching – December through April

Whales are an important part of Kauai’s history. Humpback whales are believed to be the embodiment of Kanaloa, who was the god of the oceans. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see one too!

People have spotted the Hawaiian humpback whale around Kauai starting in December and as late as April. The best time to see these majestic creatures is December through March. Waking up early will be key for watching the humpback whales breach the surface of the water.

The best way to see the whales is on a catamaran whale tour around the south shore. On a catamaran tour with Kauai Sea Tours, a guide will explain the history of whales around Kauai and take you to the perfect viewing areas.

When is the Best Time to See Sea Turtles

Who doesn’t love turtles? Sea turtles, called honu ( pronounced hoh-noo by Hawaiian locals), can be found all around Kauai throughout the year. From May through September, the sea turtles head to the beaches to lay their eggs.

We advise you to keep your distance from the sea turtles. No touching, feeding, riding, approaching, or handling sea turtles is allowed in Kauai. If caught mishandling, mistreating, or holding sea turtles in captivity, you can face fines up to $100,000 and even prison time. If you keep 10-20 feet away from them, you can enjoy these beautiful creatures without disturbing them.

See the Dolphins of Kauai

Dolphins are a beautiful creature that many people associate with Hawaii, and you can find different species of dolphins in Kauai. The two most common species of dolphins are spinner dolphins and bottlenose dolphins.

Spinner Dolphins

Spinner dolphins are a little smaller in size than bottlenose dolphins but more common to see around the island. You can find spinner dolphins swimming near Kauai year-round.

Bottlenose or Flipper Dolphins

Have you ever dreamed of seeing dolphins flip and spin over the surface of the water? Then you’re looking for bottlenose dolphins, also known as flipper dolphins for their acrobatics. Bottlenose dolphins can be found throughout the year around Kauai.

Monk Seals

Monk seals, an endangered species with fewer than 1,500 remaining, are a rare and cherished presence around the shores of Kauai. This idyllic island serves as a hotspot for encountering these gentle marine mammals. The month of May holds particular significance as it marks the monk seal birthing season. 

During this period, female monk seals give birth to their pups on Kauai’s sandy beaches and rocky shorelines. Witnessing this natural event is a unique privilege, but it demands a delicate approach to ensure minimal disturbance to these new mothers and their offspring.

Respectful observation is paramount when encountering monk seals. As an endangered species, they require a tranquil environment. If you’re fortunate enough to spot one, maintain a respectful distance of at least 25 feet, allowing them the space needed for resting and caring for their young. Beyond individual efforts, conservation initiatives are crucial for the survival of monk seals. 

Local organizations and authorities collaborate to monitor and protect these seals, while educational programs aim to raise awareness about the importance of preserving this iconic species for future generations.


Sharks, including reef and tiger sharks, inhabit the waters around Kauai year-round, contributing to the diverse marine ecosystem. While shark sightings are rare, and attacks even rarer, understanding their behavior is essential for fostering coexistence. 

Sharks, as apex predators, play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems and are not typically interested in humans as a food source.

To enjoy the waters safely, it’s crucial to take precautions. Stay informed about local conditions, adhere to posted warnings, and avoid areas with known shark activity. Practicing safe swimming and surfing habits adds an extra layer of protection for both visitors and the marine life that call Kauai’s waters home. 

By dispelling myths and promoting understanding, visitors can appreciate the incredible diversity of marine life, including monk seals and sharks, while contributing to the conservation and preservation of these unique species.

Tropical Fish

Several species of Hawaii’s crystal-clear waters are a haven for an incredible array of tropical reef fish, transforming the underwater world into a living masterpiece. These include the official Hawaiian state fish, named the Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.  

Humuhumunukunukuapua’a (Reef Triggerfish)

  • The humuhumunukunukuapua’a, or reef triggerfish, is a Hawaiian marvel known for its unique appearance and territorial nature. Its name, while challenging to pronounce, mirrors the distinct features of this fish.
  • Interestingly, the humuhumunukunukuapua’a has a remarkable ability to change colors, making it a captivating sight for snorkelers and divers. In Hawaiian culture, it holds special significance as the state fish.

Yellow Tang

  • Adding a burst of sunshine to the reef, the yellow tang is a radiant surgeonfish that captivates with its vibrant yellow color. These fish often gather in schools, creating a dazzling spectacle as they navigate the coral formations.
  • Beyond their aesthetic appeal, yellow tangs play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the coral reefs by grazing on algae. Sustainable practices are essential to ensure the continued abundance of this iconic species.

Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse

  • The Hawaiian cleaner wrasse may be small, but its role in the underwater ecosystem is significant. Known for its cleaning behavior, this wrasse sets up cleaning stations on the reef, providing a valuable service to larger fish by removing parasites.
  • Dive into the world of symbiosis as you learn about the relationships forged between cleaner wrasses and other reef inhabitants, showcasing the delicate balance of nature.

Moorish Idol

  • Graceful and distinctive, the Moorish idol is a reef inhabitant recognized for its elongated dorsal fins and intricate patterns. These fish exhibit unique feeding habits, preferring sponges and small invertebrates as part of their diet.
  • Despite their beauty, Moorish idols face challenges, including capture for the aquarium trade. Responsible practices are essential to ensure the conservation of these elegant reef dwellers.

Parrotfish Varieties

  • Hawaii is home to a diverse array of parrotfish species, each contributing to the reef’s well-being by grazing on algae. Dive into the fascinating world of parrotfish, where feeding habits result in the production of sand, a vital process for the reef ecosystem.
  • Explore the kaleidoscope of colors and features exhibited by different parrotfish species, adding to the visual spectacle of Hawaii’s underwater palette.

For the best visibility, we recommend scuba diving or snorkeling during July and August. However, you can pretty much go scuba diving year-round and have a great time.

See Marine Wildlife with Kauai Sea Tours

Embark on a journey of discovery with Kauai Sea Tours and witness the magic of Hawaii’s marine life. Our tours provide a unique opportunity to experience the beauty and diversity of Kauai’s underwater world.

Book your tour today and delve into the wonders of the ocean with Kauai Sea Tours!

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