Breach
When you head out on a whale watch, this is the action you most want to see. A breach occurs when a humpback launches itself fully out of the ocean. For an explanation of WHY humpback whales breach, go here.

 

Tail Slap
We love the tail slap, also known as lobtailing. A tail slap is, literally, when the humpback slaps the water with its tail in a straight up and down action. It seems easy enough, but to do it, the whale needs to lift its rear out of the water in order to create the force needed to slap its tail down. This is different than the tail throw…

 

Tail Throw
Also known as a peduncle throw, you don’t often see these on Maui, but when you do, they’re spectacular. A tail throw occurs when a whale turns to its side and violently lifts its tail out of the water and slaps it down in a sideways action. Since it’s believed tail throws primarily occur during mating, this action is very rare here in Hawaii.

 

Pec Slap
A pec slap occurs when a whale raises its pectoral fins (side fins) vertically, then slaps it down into the water. We like to think of pec slaps as a whale’s way of waving “hello.” We would be wrong, but it’s fun to dream…

 

Chin Slap
Nobody likes to be slapped in the face, but humpbacks do enjoy raising their heads out of the water, then slapping them down. It takes a great amount of strength to raise the upper half of their bodies out of the water and slap them down.

 

Spyhopping
Humpbacks do this to look out over the horizon. Kind of like gophers peeking their heads out of their holes, humpbacks lift their heads out of the water and look around. If you see a humpback doing this, it’s probably looking right back at you!

 

Blowing
“Thar she blows!” The famous pirate cry is the most recognizable and common action you’ll see on a Maui whale watch. What you may not know, however, is that humpbacks do not blow water out of their blowholes. Instead, they are blowing out the hot air and mucus that collects in their lungs. When this warm mixture hits the cooler outside air the condensation it creates looks like a spigot of water.

To join us on a whale watch tour, save 10% when you book from this page on our website.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

When you join us on a whale watch tour on Maui, breaching is one of the common actions you’re likely to see. Breaching is when a whale throws its entire body out of the water. It’s an awesome to sight to witness, to be sure. But why do humpback whales breach?

Until recently, most whale experts believed there wasn’t one reason. It’s kind of like asking, why do humans run? We run for play, exercise, to escape danger, etc. Among the reasons scientists believed whales breached were for communication, a way to warn others of impending danger, as a way to stun prey, and as a sort of mating ritual competition between males.

However, in November, 2016, an article titled “Evidence for the functions of surface-active behaviors in humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)” was published in the Marine Mammal Science journal. The authors of the study concluded, with some certainty, the main reason for breaching (and tail/pectoral slapping) is communication.

Simply put in human terms, an acoustic sound like a drum travels further than the voice, which is why cultures once beat on drums to communicate from village to village. So while whales can sing beautifully, in order to contact other whales further away, they need to beat on the water to get the message out.

As for the other reasons whales breach, while those listed above may be partially true, it never fully made sense to scientists why whales breached in Hawaii. While the humpbacks do mate here, they don’t eat. That’s right, they fast the entire time they’re in Hawaii. They also don’t have any natural predators here. So breaching to stun their prey or warn of danger seems dubious, at best. Especially when you consider how much energy a whale expends to throw 30 tons of body out of the water while they are fasting.

So next time you see a humpback whale leaping out of the ocean or slapping its fins, it isn’t just for show. They’re probably communicating with other whales miles away.

If you’d like to witness whales breaching up close and personal, join us on a whale watch and save 10% by booking directly on this website here.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

Every winter, the thousands of  humpback whales that migrate to Hawaii are a source of wonder and interest among both island visitors and residents. For those who keep an eye on the blue horizon, the whales can put on quite a show with their acrobatic antics. Their great size and charismatic behavior are just a couple of reasons why our Maui whale watch tours are so popular. Although there are still some mysteries remaining as to the lives they lead below the waves, scientists have discovered many fascinating things about our humpback neighbors.

Humpbacks are found throughout the world’s oceans, although their numbers dipped dangerously low as a result of whaling in the 1800’s. It’s estimated that as few as 1,000 were left in 1965. Now, there are an estimated 23,000 north pacific humpbacks alone. Of this number, about 60%, or 12,000 – 14,000, migrate to Hawaii.

One interesting fact about the north pacific humpbacks are the three somewhat distinct populations they form. The eastern stock migrate between Northern California in summer and Mexico in winter. The western stock summers in the Aleutian Islands and moves on the islands south of Japan in winter. The central stock can be found here in Hawaii in the winter, after spending their summers in southeast Alaska and the Gulf of Alaska. The whales aren’t too strict about their migrations though, as some mixing on the breeding grounds has been observed in each of the three groups, which probably goes a long way to keeping the gene pool nice and diverse.

Hawaii’s waters provide such an important habitat for these whales that Congress designated the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary in 1992, where the whales would be protected as an endangered species by both federal and state law. Luckily for us, one of the two most popular places for whales to congregate is in the waters of Maui County, meaning the area between Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kaho’olawe. Their other popular spot is to the southwest of Molokai. As their numbers continue to strengthen, they have made progress spreading out toward the other Hawaiian islands.

Our whales from Alaska leave their feeding grounds in the fall and swim almost non-stop until reaching their breeding grounds in Hawaii, which can take between 6-8 weeks. At about 3,000 miles each way, it’s one of the longest mammal migrations, which is why it takes them so long despite their epic size.

Marine scientists have made some interesting discoveries about Hawaii’s arriving whales. Namely, who arrives when. Nursing mothers arrive around mid to late November, generally being the first on the scene. The next to arrive are juveniles and newly weaned yearlings, followed by a surge of adult males, and then adult females. The last to arrive are pregnant females, who feed in Alaska as long as possible before beginning their migration.

If you’d like to observe these awe-inspiring giants in their natural habitat, you can book your tour at our Maui whale watch tour page and save 10%. If you need our assistance, you’ll find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Mahalo!

More Maui Whale Watch Guides:

 Achilles Tang
These black fish have a distinctive orange patch near the tail and some seriously beautiful orange, white, and blue stripes that look like they were painted on. Growing to 10 inches long, the Achilles Tang can be found in surge zones, along rocky shores and coral reefs. While you should always try to keep a respectful distance from fish while snorkeling, it’s especially true of the Achilles Tang, as their tails consist of sharp spines that can cause deep wounds.

 

Bird Wrasse
White and grey in color, as juveniles and females, Bird Wrasses, like all Wrasses, will evolve into males, as they mature, and turn blue and green. With their distinctive snouts, the Bird Wrasse can grow to about 10 inches long. They can usually be found near the reef looking to dine on shellfish, worms, urchins and other sea creatures.

 

 

Black Durgon
Also called a Black Triggerfish, the Black Durgon appears to be a solid black fish, with white stripes that run along its dorsal and rear fins. But a closer look reveals that the “black” is actually multiple colors, and depending on the lighting can be quite striking. This blimp-shaped fish is normally around 12 inches long, but it can grow to 18 inches. Black Durgon are usually found just below the surface, near rocky and coral reefs. (Photo copyright Conchasdiver | Dreamstime.com)

 

Blacktip Reef Shark
With black tipped dorsal and pectoral fins, the Blacktip Reef Shark is fairly easy to differentiate from other sharks. They are considered relatively harmless and should not alarm you if you spot one while snorkeling. As long as you don’t antagonize them, and stay a respectable distance from them, you should be safe. They can grow to around six feet.

 

Bluespine Unicorn Tang
With a horn-like growth out of the middle of its forehead, it’s no mystery where this fish got its name. Like the Achilles Tang, Bluespine Unicorn Tangs have sharp spines in their tales that can cause injury if you touch them. They can grow to 24 inches, and tend to feed near shallow reef surfaces.

 

 

Christmas Wrasse
The Christmas Wrasse, named for its red and green coloring, can be found primarily in shallow reefs and along rocky bottoms, going as deep as 30 feet. Growing to nearly a foot in length, it’s one of the larger Wrasse fish in Hawaiian waters. (Photo copyright Krlkllr34 | Dreamstime.com)

 

 

Convict Tang
The most common of the Tang (or Surgeonfish) family, the Convict Tang can be found in tidepools and shallow reefs all the way down to depths of 150 feet. These distinctive fish really do look like convicts with their white bodies and black stripes. The Convict Tang averages about six inches in length and feeds on reef algae.

 

 

Forceps Butterflyfish
Unless you look closely, this fish can be easily confused with the yellow Longnose Butterflyfish. Both fish are bright yellow, with dark heads, and long noses. But, there are two main characteristics that separate the two fish: the Forceps Butterflyfish has a slightly shorter nose, and its jaw is roughly one-third shorter. The Forceps Butterflyfish feeds in shallower parts of the reef, whereas the Yellow Longnose feeds in the deeper waters at the outer reef. (Photo copyright Oskanov | Dreamstime.com)

 

Fourspot Butterflyfish
With a bright yellow lower body and black top half, the fourspot is so named for the two white spots on each side of it’s body. Still, it’s often confused with raccoon butterflyfish, even though the black rings around its eyes are far less prominent than in the raccoon variety. The fourspot butterflyfish is common in Maui’s reefs and reaches a length of about 8 inches. (Photo copyright Krlkllr34 | Dreamstime.com)

 

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Native to Hawai’i, the Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle is the largest hard-shelled sea turtle in the world. They can grow upwards of 4 feet long, and can weigh more than 300 pounds. They are the most common of the five sea turtles you’ll see in Maui’s waters. The other turtles you may come across are the Hawksbill, Leatherback, Loggerhead and Olive Ridley. Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles are endangered species. It is against the law to touch them.

 

 

Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby Pufferfish
Endemic to Hawaii, these small fish grow to around three inches. The Hawaiian Whitespotted Toby Pufferfish is yellowish to dark brown, with white spots, and are the most common pufferfish found in Maui’s waters. Like all pufferfish, when alarmed, these fish will expand their size by upwards of 2x to 3x by sucking in and holding water. They, also, have poisonous toxins in their skin that makes them dangerous for predators and humans. (Photo copyright Wrangel | Dreamstime.com)

 

Milletseed Butterflyfish The black-spotted, yellow Milletseed Butterflyfish is endemic to Hawaiian waters, and is one of the most common fish seen by snorkelers in Maui’s reefs. It has a unique, vertical black eye mask. They tend to swim in schools in both shallow and deep reefs and grow to about 6.5 inches.

 

 

Moorish Idol
Quite beautiful, the Moorish Idol is often confused for a butterflyfish, but it’s actually a member of its own species. These fish are commonly seen near the sea floor around shallow reefs by snorkelers. Besides its coloring, another characteristic of Moorish Idols is their extremely long dorsal fin that can double the length of the fish. Moorish Idols can grow up to nine inches long.

 

Needlefish
Long and narrow with needle-like pointy beaks, needlefish swim near the ocean’s surface, and often leap from the water. While you’re in the water, they can actually be hard to spot as the shimmering silver coloration often looks like simple waves. Needlefish can range from a couple of inches all the way to three feet or more. (Photo copyright Andris Lipskis | Dreamstime.com)

 

Orangeband Surgeonfish
Generally between 6 to 14 inches long, the Orangeband Surgeonfish is identified by a thick orange strip just above its pectoral fin. Another fairly easy identifier is their two-toned body, normally white (or lighter) in the front half of their body and grey in the back. They tend to swim in schools near the sandy ocean floor.

 

 

Orangespine Unicorn Tang
Unlike the Bluespine Unicorn Tang, the Orangespine Unicorn Tang does not have a prominent “horn,” but an easy to way to identify these fish is by the orange band where its tail meets its body. They primarily feed in shallow reef surfaces and can grow up to 24 inches long.

 

 

Ornate Wrasse
The Ornate Wrasse lives near the reef and can be found at depths from as shallow as 3 feet all the way to down to nearly 500 feet. They normally reach a length of about 6 inches, but can grow up to 10 inches. These multi-colored fish normally sport a pinkish head with green, blue, and red spots and stripes.

 

 

Parrotfish
A brilliant pink, orange or blue, parrotfish are commonly seen on Maui reefs. Though they are often colored similar to parrots, their name is derived from their beak-like snouts. Parrotfish can be found in both shallow and deep water reefs and can grow quite large, up to six feet in some cases, though most range between less than a foot to three feet long. By expelling the corals they eat, Parrotfish are actually partly responsible for the white “sand” beaches you’ll find around Hawaii.

 

Pennant Butterflyfish
With a white body and two wide black stripes, this fish is often confused for the Moorish Idol. The main way to tell them apart is in the length of the dorsal tail. Where the Pennant Butterflyfish seems as though it’s snipped off, the Moorish has an extremely long one. They are often seen in schools in deeper water.

 

 

Raccoon Butterflyfish
Growing to nearly eight inches in length, the Raccoon Butterflyfish has an oval shape and is named for its black, raccoon-like mask. Its bright yellow body is easy to spot against the reef. The Raccoon Butterflyfish is very common in Maui’s waters.

 

 

Reef Triggerfish (Humuhumunukanukaapua’a )
The state fish of Hawaii, Humuhumunukanukaapua’a means “triggerfish with a snout like a pig.” While they reside in shallow reefs, they aren’t the friendliest of fishes and will scatter if they feel encroached upon. That said, with their bright, distinctive coloring, they are easy to spot and track from a distance. They grow to about 10 inches.

 

Saddle Wrasse
A fish native to Hawai’ian waters, the Saddle Wrasse can reach nearly a foot in length and are found mostly in waters from about 15 to 75 feet deep. The Saddle Wrasse acquired its name because of the colorful “saddle,” normally red, located behind the dorsal fin. The Saddle Wrasse is one of the most common fish you’ll see while snorkeling Maui’s waters.

 

Sergeant Major Fish
So named for the five black stripes running vertically against it’s, generally, blue coloring, the Sergeant Major fish can live in waters up to 130 feet deep. Juveniles can be found in tide pools. Though they can grow up to 9 inches, most max out at around 6 inches.

 

 

Spotted Boxfish
While the females are primarily brown, and the males mostly blue, they are named for the spots that cover their bodies. Hawaii’s most common boxfish, they swim mostly in shallow waters and can often be seen by beachgoers wading near the shoreline. Spotted boxfish can grow to 10 inches, though most tend to be around six inches. (Copyright Dirk Jan Mattaar | Dreamstime.com)

 

Spotted Pufferfish
Pufferfish come in two varieties, smooth and spiny. The Spotted Pufferfish is a smooth puffer that can reach 20 inches in length. Fairly common in Maui’s waters, they are brown with white spots and can found near the reef during the day.

 

 

Threadfin Butterflyfish
Normally hanging out near the inner and outer reef slopes, Threadfin Butterflyfish grow to around eight inches in Hawai’i’s waters. To tell this fish from other Butterflyfish, look for the black dot near the rear of its dorsal fin.

 

 

Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish
While, normally, bright yellow in color, researchers believe the Yellow Longnose Butterflyfish will sometimes turn dark brown, then possibly shift back to its yellow color. They grow up to eight inches in length, and tend to live in deeper waters at the far end of the reef. (Copyright Olga Khoroshunova | Dreamstime.com)

 

 

Yellowmargin Moray Eel
While eels are often seen in the reefs of Maui, the Yellowmargin Moray eel is the most common. Staying hidden in the reef during the day, they are sometimes difficult to spot. Yellowmargin Moray eels can grow to four feet in length. While they have acquired a bit of a scary reputation, as long as you don’t provoke them, Moray eels are not considered dangerous. But, as with everything under the sea, you should stay back a respectable distance and don’t antagonize them.

 

Yellow Tang
Probably the easiest fish to spot and identify along Maui’s reefs, the Yellow Tang’s bright yellow coloring really stands out. Your eyes can’t help but be attracted to it. It’s the only solid yellow fish in these waters. They can grow to eight inches, and are normally found in shallow reefs.

Snorkeling in Maui is fun. When you enter our waters, you’re liable to see fish of all colors, turtles, sea urchins, and maybe even (harmless) sharks and rays. But when snorkeling, don’t overlook the coral. Coral are beautiful, living ANIMALS. Coral has a unique, symbiotic relationship with other sea creatures and plants, and helps “power” our beautiful reefs. However, many corals are dying out due to rising sea temperatures and poisoning from popular sunscreens. See our sunscreen guide to learn more about how sunscreen poisons the reef and what to look for when purchasing reef-friendly sunscreens. Here are four common corals you’ll see in Maui. For fish, check out our Fish Guide for Snorkeling Maui.

Lobe Coral
Found in a variety habitats, lobe coral is one of the most common corals in Hawai’i’s oceans. It’s mostly seen in depths from 10 – 45 feet, though it can also be seen in shallow tide pools and can thrive as deep as 150 feet. They grow less than a centimeter a year, yet lobe coral can become massive entities, up to 20 feet across. Only the outermost layer, about 1 millimeter, is actually alive. There are several species of lobe coral in Hawai’i. You’ll often see yellow, greenish and tan varieties off of Maui’s shores.

Cauliflower Coral
The most common species of coral in surge-zone slopes of shallow reefs less than 10 feet deep, the cauliflower coral ranges in color from tan to pink. It can also be found in depths of 90 feet or more. Cauliflower coral is unusual in that it can only grow to maximum length of about 12-to-15 inches, whereas most corals do not have a capped size. The living portion of cauliflower coral is the outermost layer, roughly 2 millimeters deep.

RELATED: Best places to snorkel on Maui

 

Rice Coral
In still-water habitats, rice coral can be the dominant species of coral. It tends to live below the reef, where it is blocked from the effects of wave surges. One unique aspect of rice coral is its ability to take on a variety of shapes, depending on its proximity to light. If it is in direct sunlight, it tends to grow into spiked peaks, whereas in shady or deeper waters, it’s more flattened out. You can even find both forms of the coral in one seabed when spiked pinnacles, blocking the sun, live over the flat-type of coral. Rice coral, generally, ranges in color from solid cream to dark brown with lighter branch tips. However, the flat, blue rice coral, endemic to Hawai’i, is popular amongst snorkelers due to its bright blue color. Rice corals can grow to several feet in diameter.

Finger coral
Living in wave protected, shallow waters to 100 feet, finger corals are very common in Hawai’i’s waters. It derived its common name because the coral grows out and up, forming appendage-like structures. The “fingers” tend to be flattened at the tips. Finger Coral are light-brown/grey to yellow in color. It’s slow-growing, but it is believed there are colonies over 1,000 years old! (Image credit: By James St. John [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)

RELATED: Maui Snorkeling Q&A

We are sure that you have heard of Hawaii’s state fish, the Humuhumunukunukuapuaa, and have been challenged to sound out this seemingly complicated set of letters. Lucky for you, we won’t make you do that and will often refer to this fish as “humuhumu” like the locals do. Instead, we wanted to share a little bit of what makes the Hawaiian triggerfish so unique!

Growing up to 10 inches long, the humuhumu definitely has a name that is longer than its body! Tiny but mighty, this fish has a tough body structure and rough scales, enabling it to wiggle into small, rocky crevasses to hide from predators. The “trigger”, which is the second spine of the humuhumu, also allows it to lock onto the jagged edges of the reef while it rests.

It is a little known fact but the Hawaiian triggerfish is not on the endangered species list, unlike the Hawaiian monk seal and the nene goose. It is also not a common fish you will find on a dining table, even in the days of Old Hawaii. Early Hawaiians would actually use dried humu as fuel for cooking fires to create more desirable fish dishes.

Roughly translated, the name humuhumunukunukuapuaa means “fish with a snout like a pig” and is believed to stem from the warning grunts a distressed humu makes as well as its pig-like eating habits. Out in the open, away from the safety of the coral, the humuhumu finds its meals by scooping sand off the shallow ocean floor and sifting the inedible pieces out through their mouths in jet streams. While their special fins allow them to burst away once threatened the humuhumu has as a camouflage mechanism of sorts as an added security measure. Capable of changing the pigment of their scales, the colorful humuhumu is able to blend with its surroundings and feast in peace.

This Hawaiian fish is known to be pretty territorial despite its size and has the tendency to nip intruders with their one-of-a-kind blue teeth, so we recommend admiring from afar for those joining us on our Lanai snorkel boat trips! Among the famous humuhumunukunukuapuaa, you will most likely to come across some honu (turtles) that frequent the waters off Maui as well as an array of other colorful fishes!

If you have any questions about the marine life you’ll encounter on our Maui sunset cruises or Hawaii snorkeling tours, you will find our contact information at the bottom of the page. Hope to see you on board – so HOP to it, book today!

The scientific name for the green sea turtle is Chelonia mydas, but the Hawaiian name is simply: “Honu.” For many snorkelers, these fascinating marine reptiles become the highlight of a good outing. Despite their status as an endangered species, there are relatively common sightings around the coral reefs in Hawaii waters. Whether you join us aboard a Molokini snorkel tour or a Lanai snorkel tour, your odds of spotting one are good. Here are our favorite fun facts about Hawaii’s beloved green sea turtles, which we will refer to as Honu.


1. Sea turtles can’t retract their head into their shell like their smaller freshwater counterparts.

2. The Honu doesn’t get its name from the color of its shell, which is often brown, grey, black or dark olive colored. It gets its name from the color of its skin, or more accurately, subdermal (beneath the skin) body fat.

3. While adult Honu are herbivores with serrated jaws for eating seagrasses and algae, juveniles are omnivores, and dine on insects, crustaceans, worms, sea grasses and many other food sources that are available.

4. Honu grow to around 3-4 feet, but weigh up to 300-350 lbs or more!

5. This species of turtle won’t reach sexual maturity until they are between 20 and 50 years old. They’ve been documented at ages of 80 to 100 years and over. Scientists are still learning about their maturity and age range.

6. A sea turtle’s shell is called the carapace, and the underside of the shell is called the plastron.

7. Honu are found around the world in warm subtropical and tropical ocean waters. They’ve been documented nesting in over 80 different countries. In the U.S., you will find them nesting in Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the east coast of Florida.

8. Honu habitats are split between the land and the ocean. The land is where they nest, lay eggs, and therefor hatch, while their ocean habitat is where they spend the vast majority of their lives. Since hatchlings rarely survive to reproductive age, most of them only touch land once in their lives, as they make their mad dash from their nest to the ocean.

9. Honu are known to travel long distances to return to their preferred breeding site. Sometimes across whole oceans. When the females are ready to lay their eggs, they climb out onto the beach, so it’s important to give them plenty of space if you do see them emerge from the water.

10. The main predators of the Honu are large sharks, especially tiger sharks. But human involvement is a close second, including entanglement in fishing gear, poaching, plastic ingestion, ocean pollution and coastal development. Respect and awareness can go a long way in preventing these dangers for the remarkable Honu.


We hope to see you aboard one of our snorkeling tours soon, and that you’ll get some amazing Honu sightings on your outing with us. Mahalo!

Turtles are the rare creature you can see both underwater and on shore. While you’re more likely to spot turtles, on Maui at least, in the water, if you know where to look you can see the largest of them, green sea turtles, resting on the beach. Hawaii is home to three native sea turtle species, and has a total of five sea turtle species in its waters. Here are the types of sea turtles you may find while wandering and snorkeling around Maui, listed by the likelihood of you spotting one.

Green Sea Turtles (very common)
Native to Hawaii, the Green Sea Turtle is the most common turtle you will find here. The only herbivore amongst sea turtles, it feeds on marine plants near the shore. They can grow to a length of four feet and over 400 pounds. Rarely nesting on the populated Hawaiian islands, every 2-to-5 years adult Green Sea Turtles will migrate hundreds of miles to the isolated northwest Hawaiian Islands to mate and nest. On Maui, a popular place to see them onshore is near sunset, resting below the viewing platform at Ho’okipa Beach Park in Paia.

Hawksbill Turtles (somewhat common)
The second sea turtle native to Hawai’i, Hawksbill Turtles, named for their bird-like snout, can be seen around Maui, Molokai, Oahu and the Big Island. They use their long, narrow beaks to feed on sea sponges and other invertebrates. Hawksbill turtles can grow to around three feet long, and up to 200 pounds. They normally nest under vegetation, high up on rocky beaches.

Olive Ridley Turtles (rare)
Though the Olive Ridley is the most abundant of all sea turtles in the world, they are not that common in Hawai’i. A smaller turtle, the Olive Ridley rarely grows longer than two feet, and 100 pounds. They feed mainly on fish and invertebrates. The nesting pattern of Olive Ridleys is unusual. Hundreds, or, even thousands will gather off-shore, then all approach the beach together, laying their eggs at once.

Leatherback Turtles (rare)
The third turtle native to Hawaii, the Leatherback is the largest sea turtle in the world. They can grow to eight feet long and 2,000 pounds. It is the only sea turtle without a hard shell and it feeds on jellyfish and other invertebrates. Because Leatherbacks do not (normally) nest on Hawaiian shores, and are usually spotted in Hawaii’s deep off-shore waters, they are rarely seen by casual turtle watchers. Incredibly, they can dive to 4,200 feet, and can stay underwater for up to 85 minutes.

Loggerhead (extremely rare)
Named for their relatively large heads, Loggerhead Turtles are the most abundant turtle in the United States coastal shores, but they are extremely rare in the Hawaiian Islands. Adults can grow to about three feet long, and 150 pounds. Their big heads support powerful jaws which are used to crack the shells of even the largest mollusks, like conch.

Remember, touching sea turtles is against the law in Hawaii! Please remain a respectful distance from turtles when you come across them. Mahalo!

If you love exploring tide pools and coral reefs to discover the many fascinating inhabitants, Maui is a great place to be. Whether you join us aboard a Molokini Snorkel Boat Tour, or you opt to stick to Maui’s coastlines, the reefs and tide pools won’t disappoint. But before you go exploring, it’s a good idea to know what’s what in terms of certain creatures. Particularly the pricklier ones. By that we mean sea urchins. Some are harmless, some are venomous, and some are just poky enough to cause trouble if you step on them. Here’s a basic guide to the most common sea urchins of Hawaii.


Echinometra mathaei – Rock Boring Urchin: This is the most common urchin that you’ll find in tide pools all around Maui. They come in one of two colors. One is a olive green, while the other is mauve. They aren’t venomous, but their short, tapering spines are sharp enough at the tips that they would be painful to step on, so tread carefully. On the plus side, they carve their way into the rocky pools so each one is nestled into its own depression. This helps protect you from them, and them from you! They’re also among the smaller urchins, normally growing to just 4-6 cm, but 15 cm specimens have been found.

Echinometra oblonga – Black Boring Urchin: This species is almost identical to the last one. Their size range is exactly the same, and so is their shape. They are found in the same kind of habitat and bore their way into rocks the same way. In fact, the only difference is that this species is black in color, or a very dark purple. They are also non venomous.

Tripneustes gratilla – Collector Urchin: This species could almost be mistaken for the Black Boring Urchin, but they have some very distinct differences. Although they share a very similar black/dark purple color, their spines are much shorter and finer, sometimes tipped with white or pink. Despite their short spines, they are larger on average, growing to about 10 cm. You’re most likely to see them in reef flats, but they can be found in a variety of other places. They earned their name because of their tendency to pick up objects like pebbles and shells

Colobocentrotus atratus – Shingle Urchin: This species is unmistakable and very easy to identify. Its spines aren’t sharp and pointing in all directions. Instead, they’re shaped like little paddles, and lay flat like protective scales. These urchins are armored for surge zones, so you’ll often find them on rocks along rough shorelines. They tend to be dark purple in color, and generally range from 4 to 6 cm in diameter, but can grow up to 9 cm.

Heterocentrotus mammillatus – Slate Pencil Urchin: This species is delightful to behold. They boast long, blunt, red spines that can be as thick as fingers. Because their spine tips are so blunt, they’re especially benign, and their bold reddish hues add some extra vibrancy to the reefs where they live. It’s not just their color that stands out, but their size as well. This species grows to a remarkable 20 cm in diameter.

Chondrocidaris gigantae – Rough Spined Urchin: These are somewhat similar to the Slate Pencil Urchin in that they both feature long, blunt spines like pencils. In this species, however, the spines are covered with rough, thorny projections, and they grow somewhat larger, at 25 cm in diameter. They are also found in holes on the reef, but sometimes at a greater depth. Their coloration is mottled red and cream on the body, which comprises the exoskeleton known as the “test,” while the spines tends to match whatever is growing on the reef, as a camouflage strategy.

Echinothrix calamaris – Banded Sea Urchin (Wana): These last two species are the venomous kind, so you’ll want to take care to steer clear and admire them from a safe distance. Typically found in holes on the reef, this species can be distinguished by the rich green hues of its long needle-thin spines. The green color varies from light to dark shades, and they bear distinct bands that make each spine look striped. The spines are also covered with small spinelets, and they sting. They can also grow up to 15 cm in diameter, which helps to make them especially easy to spot.

Echinothrix diadema – Black Sea Urchin (Wana): This species is closely related and therefor similar to the last, but more common. Its coloration is black in adulthood, but younger specimens also bear bands on their spines, and often share the green hues of their relatives, so the two species are often mistaken for each other at a young age. Although their adult color is black rather than green, they have the very long, needle-thin spines in common. Both species grow to 15 cm in diameter, and both can be found in holes in the reef.


We hope these descriptions are enough to get you started as you learn about the many fascinating creatures that can be found while snorkeling Maui and exploring the tide pools. We hope you have a safe and memorable experience! If you join us aboard a snorkeling boat tour, you can count on us to share our knowledge with you. Mahalo!

The waters off Hawaii’s coastlines are full of fascinating marine animals, but few have as many surprising qualities as the octopus. As researchers continue to discover incredible things about the capabilities of these remarkable invertebrates, they continue to grow in popularity. You’ll need sharp eyes and a lot of luck to spot an octopus on our tours, whether you opt for our Molokini or Lanai snorkeling tour, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. They’re a lot of fun to watch as they prowl around the reef in search of a meal. If you’re curious about the qualities that make the octopus stand out in comparison with its marine neighbors, here are our 10 Fun Facts About Octopus.


1. Native Hawaiian octopus species include the Night Octopus (he’e) and the Day Octopus (he’e-mākoko).

2. While octopuses are often described as having eight tentacles, the correct term is arms. Those arms contain two-thirds of the neurons in an octopus, meaning they are quite capable of functioning on their own, even if they’ve been cut off. And if an octopus does lose an arm, it simply grows a new one.

3. Octopuses are considered to be the most intelligent of all invertebrates. They’ve been documented not just learning from experience, but maintaining short- and long-term memory. They also improvise on shelter with whatever is available, such as coconut husks.

4. The skin of an octopus is capable of changing color, pattern and texture depending on the surrounding environment. This incredible camouflage ability isn’t the only thing that makes their skin special. It also contains the same light-sensitive proteins that are found in the eyes of the octopus. That means the skin can respond to the light around it without the eyes or the brain being involved.

5. As if their unparalleled camouflage skills weren’t enough, octopuses can release a cloud of black ink to obscure the view of an attacker as they slip away, like a ninja with a smoke bomb.

6. Octopuses have no bones in their bodies, which makes them incredibly flexible. It also means they can squeeze through tiny cracks.

7. Not only can they easily get out of things, but they can get into things as well. Researchers at the Seattle Aquarium tested a Pacific giant octopus against a childproof pill bottle. The octopus opened it in five minutes.

8. A common octopus has no less than 240 suckers on each arm, and just one large sucker can hold up to 35 lbs. The suckers can move individually and are extremely sensitive to what they touch.

9. Octopuses have three hearts. One pumps blood through the body, while the other two pump blood through each of their gills.

10. Octopuses typically live just a few years, and some species only live six months. This makes their problem solving abilities all the more impressive, because they have so little life experience to draw from in comparison with humans.


In addition to all these amazing qualities, the octopus is culturally significant in Hawaii. Na aumakua are considered to be physical embodiments of legends and mythology from Hawaii’s history, anchored in the form of an animal. These animals are revered as spiritual counselors, and the octopus is among Hawaii’s collection of aumakua. The lessons of the octopus aumakua are tied into qualities like flexibility, intelligence, and a multifaceted nature. So if you see one, a kupuna (elder) might tell you to embrace those qualities, and that there will be benefits if you do so!

If you have any questions about the creatures you encounter on our Maui snorkel tours, don’t hesitate to ask our knowledgeable staff, and they will be happy to answer. Mahalo!