Dolphin Encounters on Maui

Unlike the leaping Humpback whales that visit Maui each winter, dolphins are full time Maui residents that can be spotted at any time of year.

What’s more, the most commonly sighted dolphins on Maui—Hawaiian Spinner dolphins—can put a Humpback whale to shame when it comes to aerial antics, as the spinners can do up to seven full rotations when they jump up out of the water.

The Three Main Dolphin Pods on Maui

The most common dolphin encounters on Maui occur when out on a boat, particularly those between Lāhainā and Lāna‘i where there’s a large population of spinners. There’s also a group of spinner dolphins that patrols the West Maui coastline and is sometimes found off Kā‘anapali Beach or up near Honolua Bay. The third distinct group of dolphins on Maui is found near La Perouse Bay, which is located at the end of the road in South Maui but best accessed by boat.
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What to Do When You Encounter a Dolphin Pod

When you do encounter a pod of dolphins while boating or sailing off Maui, you’ll often see the cluster of whitecaps and splashes before you’ll notice the dolphins. Like a galloping cavalry of underwater horses, spinner dolphins will gather in pods that can number over 100 and create a white cluster of motion that moves like a large swarm of bees.

This is one massive swarm, however, where you hope to end up in the middle, to watch as spouting, leaping dolphins surround each side of the boat. In order for that to happen, however, it’s up to the dolphins themselves. Boats in Hawaiʻi aren’t allowed to intentionally drive through a pod of dolphins and must keep a distance of at least 50 yards between the dolphins and the boat. Try telling that to the dolphins, however, who often love to ride the wake in the front and the back of the boat. It’s common for dolphins to approach a vessel and swim just feet from the hull, though it’s illegal to jump out and swim with the dolphins since they’re federally protected.

What Else You Need to Know About Dolphins on Maui

Aside from the feisty, acrobatic spinners, other dolphins that live around Maui are the larger, more solitary Bottlenose dolphin and Pantropical Spotted dolphins that live in deeper waters.

If you’re simply snorkeling or swimming from shore, you’re likely to hear any nearby dolphins—but probably not get to see one. Their high-pitched squeaks and guttural chatter can be heard for hundreds of yards, but only in extremely rare instances will dolphins decide to mingle with snorkelers. In some ways it adds to their intrigue and mystery, in a beguiling, natural sense, that they seem to be curious, friendly and social but often just want to be left alone as they rest for their late night hunt.

dolphins on Maui

Photo: Shiny Things.

Dolphin Encounters Directory

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