Dolphin Encounters on the Big Island

Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau claimed no aquarium, however spacious it may be, can duplicate the conditions of the ocean. This becomes abundantly clear for visitors who venture out for a day on the water looking for, and swimming with, wild dolphins. The Big Island offers ample opportunity to get up close and personal with these intelligent, magnificent creatures.

Hawaiian Dolphins

In the Hawaiian language the name for dolphin is ‘naiʻa.’ There are four different species of dolphins found in the waters surrounding Hawaiʻi. The most common is the Spinner Dolphin, but Bottlenose Dolphins, Spotted Dolphins, and Rough-toothed dolphins also make an occasional appearance.

Once in a Lifetime

Swimming with dolphins on Hawaiʻi Island is available to visitors of all ages. It requires only basic swimming skills and feeling comfortable in deep water. Tour companies take small groups of snorkelers out into the ocean to look for dolphins, and when found swimmers are instructed when to get into the water. The experience of swimming with wild dolphins is often described as an unforgettable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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Dolphins are playful, highly intelligent mammals that often enjoy interactions with humans. If they don’t wish to interact, they can out-swim a person with ease. Spinner dolphins, the species most often scouted for on dolphin excursions, seek out sheltered bays to rest from their nightly hunting activity. Because of this, tour operators only scout for dolphins in the open ocean as to not interrupt the sleeping patterns of those resting in the local bays.

The Best Dolphin Scouting Locales

The Kona and Kohala Coasts on the west side of Hawaiʻi Island are the best places to swim with dolphins. The weather is almost always cooperative, and the water conditions are favorable. It’s not uncommon to run into a pod of Spinner Dolphins while swimming or snorkeling on your own. However, if you want to guarantee your opportunity to see these creatures up close, your best bet is to book a professional tour.

Dolphin Tour Options

Most tours last approximately four hours and include snorkel gear, snacks and beverages. Don’t forget to bring sunscreen and a towel. There are several options for seeing dolphins while on Hawaiʻi Island. Dolphin Discoveries offers four-hour dolphin swims and often throws in some snorkel time at Kealakekua Bay, if time permits. For those interested in staying dry and doing some dolphin and marine life watching from aboard, Body Glove Cruises offers dolphin watching trips complete with pupus (appetizers) and a full no-host bar. However you choose to become familiar with these amazing creatures, it will be an experience not soon forgotten.

dolphin at Kealakekua Bay

"This dolphin jumped out of the water, grabbed the leaf and swam past me." - Kathy D. at Kealakekua Bay. Photo: Hawaii.com member Kathy D.

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Dolphin Encounters