Marine Life Of Hawaii

When you think about Hawaii, you probably think of clear seas, year-round sunshine, shave ice, luaus, and some of best surf spots in the world. But while you’ll definitely find all of these things in the Aloha State, it’s just as famous for its unique marine life.

Whether you’re patrolling pristine beaches, surfing epic waves, or snorkeling the near-transparent waters, you can encounter some of this amazing marine life for yourself.

Types of Marine Life in Hawaii

All of the following marine animals can be found around the Hawaiian Islands. Some are considered sacred by the locals, and many of them are unique to the islands.

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles (Chelonia Mydas)

  • Hawaiian Name: Honu
  • Species: Cheloniidae
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • How Many Exist In The Wild: 750 Mature Females

The Hawaiian green sea turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle on the planet and can weigh a massive 300 pounds. These creatures are sacred to the locals, who know them as “honu”. They can often be found basking on the beaches of the Hawaiian islands, but while you might be tempted to venture near, you should always keep your distance.

It’s actually illegal to harass a Hawaiian green sea turtle as it is a protected species.

Spinner Dolphins (Stenella Longirostris)

  • Hawaiian Name: Nai’a
  • Species: Delphinidae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • How Many Exist In The Wild: 10,000

Spinner dolphins are very common around the Hawaiian Archipelago as they thrive in tropical bodies of water.

Spinner dolphins are so-named because of their acrobatic performances. They can often be seen leaping out of the water and spinning in the air.

Humpback Whales (Megaptera Novaeangliae)

  • Hawaiian Name: Kohola
  • Species: Balaenopteridae
  • Conservation Status: LeastConcern
  • How Many Exist In The Wild: 60,000+

A favorite among whale watchers, the humpback whale can weigh up to 40 tons and visits the Hawaiian Islands during the winter months. They head to the islands to mate, not to feed, and the journey that takes them there spans around 3,000 miles.

And you thought you traveled a long way to get to Hawaii!

The humpback whale can grow to over 50 feet in length and weigh over 30 short tons.

Manta Rays (Manta Birostris)

  • Hawaiian Name: Hahalua
  • Species: Mobulidae
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable
  • How Many Exist In The Wild: 1500

Manta rays are large and smart marine animals that are becoming increasingly threatened, with very few of them left in the wild. They can span up to 23 feet in width and are considered to be some of the smartest fish in the ocean, with a larger brain-to-body ratio than any other species.

Hawaiian Monk Seals (Neomonachus Schauinslandi)

  • Hawaiian Name: Ilio-Holo-I-Ka-Uaua
  • Species: Phocidae
  • Conservation Status: Endangered
  • How Many Exist In The Wild: 1400

The Hawaiian monk seal is a protected marine animal that lives around the Hawaiian Islands. They are not aggressive (unless threatened) but you could face a hefty fine if you venture too close to them.

The Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most threatened species on this list. Changes in its habitat, commercial fishing, and disease are greatly reducing its numbers, threatening this 500-pound beast with complete extinction.

Reef Triggerfish (Rhinecanthus Rectangulus)

  • Hawaiian Name: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a
  • Species: Balistidae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The reef triggerfish is the official fish of Hawaii. It also has one of the most impressive names in Hawaiian, and it’s actually easier to pronounce than you might think: “hoo-moo-hoo-moo-nu-ku-nu-ku-ah-poo-ah-ah”.

The reef triggerfish lives in shallow waters and is edible, but it’s not considered to be a tasty variety.

The Day Octopus (Octopus Cyanea)

  • Hawaiian Name: He’e Mauli
  • Species: Octopodidae
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The day octopus is a 3-foot octopus that lives in warm waters from the Hawaiian Islands to the eastern coast of Africa.

Also known as the blue octopus, this cephalopod lives in coral reefs and is very adept at camouflage, which it uses to hide from and then capture its prey, including fish, shrimp, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Blacktip Reef Shark (Carcharhinus Limbatus)

  • Hawaiian Name: Manō Pā’ele
  • Species: Carcharhinidae
  • Conservation Status: Vulnerable

The blacktip reef shark is a type of requiem shark. It can reach over 5 feet in length and looks like a pretty imposing creature, but it’s also very shy and skittish and it’s extremely rare for these sharks to attack humans.

The blacktip reef shark feeds on bony fishes, crustaceans, and cephalopods, but it has also been known to eat seabirds.

Hawaiian Squirrelfish (Sargocentron Xantherythrum)

  • Hawaiian Name: ‘Ala‘Ihi
  • Species: Holocentridae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

A beautiful fish with a unique and vibrant red and silver coloring. These fish also have uniquely large eyes, and it’s these eyes that give them their rodent-like name.

Hawaiian Turkeyfish (Pterois Sphex)

  • Hawaiian Name: Nohu Pinao 
  • Species: Scorpaenidae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Also known as the “lionfish”, these colorful creatures are covered in dorsal spines. They hide in caves throughout the day and hunt during the night.

Hawaiian Cleaner Wrasse (Labroides Phthirophagus)

  • Species: Labridae
  • Conservation Status: LeastConcern

The Hawaiian cleaner wrasse is a carnivorous fish that can be kept as a pet. They help to clean parasites and pests from other fish and like to bury themselves in sand when they are stressed.

Hawaiian Spotted Eagle Ray (Aetobatus Narinari)

  • Hawaiian Name: Hihimanu
  • Other Names: Bonnet Ray, Duckbill Ray
  • Species: Aetobatidae
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened

The Hawaiian name for this creature means something like “magnificent bird”, hinting at its incredible beauty, as well as a wingspan that makes it look like an underwater bird.

Giant Trevally (Caranx Ignobilis)

  • Hawaiian Name: Ulua Aukea
  • Species: Carangindae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large and powerful fish that can grow to a weight of over 170 pounds and has been found in and around Japan, Australia, and South Africa, as well as Hawaii.

Milletseed Butterflyfish/Lemon Butterflyfish (Chaetodon Miliaris)

  • Hawaiian Name: Lau Wiliwili
  • Species: Chaetodontidae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The milletseed fish is endemic to Hawaii and grows to an average length of just 5 inches.

Hawaiian Bigeye (Priacanthus Meeki)

  • Hawaiian Name: ‘ahi
  • Species: Priacanthidae
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Hawaiian bigeye tuna is one of two fish known as “‘ahi” (the other is the yellowfin tuna). It is a popular fish among commercial fisheries.

Extinct Animals in Hawaii

Although several of the marine animals mentioned above are classed as “threatened”, either due to pollution, overfishing, or climate change, they are all still alive.

The same can’t be said for some of the other beautiful creatures that have called these islands home.

Birds are some of the most common animals to have become extinct in Hawaii, and many of those extinctions occurred in the 19th and early 20th centuries, mainly due to deforestation and the introduction of predators.

Many insects have also become extinct, including the amusingly named “Confused moth” and a number of land snails.

As far as marine life is concerned, we haven’t seen as much of an impact, but that’s partly because we’re seeing it right now.

After all, the Hawaiian monk seal, green sea turtle, giant manta ray, and several other creatures that call these islands home are seriously threatened and could be extinct within a generation.

FAQs About Marine Animals in Hawaii

If you still have questions about Hawaiian fish or marine mammals, take a look at these helpful FAQs.

How Many Sea Animals are in Hawaii?

There are hundreds of species that live around the Hawaiian Islands, including just under 700 species of fish.

What Is The Most Dangerous Sea Animal In Hawaii?

You might expect a shark species to top a list of the most dangerous sea creatures in Hawaii, but that dubious honor actually goes to the box jellyfish. It has some of the strongest venom of any animal and could kill you in just a few minutes.

What Dangerous Sea Animals Live In Hawaii?

In addition to the box jellyfish, Hawaii is home to deadly sea snails, venomous sea urchins, the Portuguese man-o-war, and sharks.

Are There Sharks In Hawaii?

There are dozens of species of sharks in Hawaii. These range in size and character, but there are potentially dangerous sharks in the water.

Are There Shark Attacks In Hawaii?

Shark attacks are not common in Hawaii, but they do occur and you need to be on the lookout for them. The tiger shark is one of the most aggressive sharks in Hawaii, but it’s also possible to be attacked by hammerhead sharks and reef sharks.