We love our monk seals. But if you’re lucky enough to see one, remember to keep your distance. They are endangered and should not be touched or harassed in any way. Beyond that, Hawaiian monk seal mothers of newborns will aggressively protect their pups. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recommends keeping a distance of 150 feet, allowing them to remain undisturbed.

  1. The official state mammal of Hawaii, the scientific name for the Hawaiian monk seal is Neomonachus schauinslandi. The Hawaiian name is “Ilio holo I ka uaua”, which translates to “dog that runs in rough water”.
  2. The average lifespan of a Hawaiian monk seal is 25 to 30 years. Adult males grow to about 7 feet long and weigh between 300 and 400 pounds. Meanwhile, females can grow to 8 feet long and can weigh between 400 to 600 pounds.
  3. The Hawaiian monk seal is unique in that they live in a tropical climate. Most seals prefer frigid water.
  4. Hawaiian monk seals do not have external ears and they cannot rotate their hind flippers underneath their bodies.
  5. Breeding season is between June and August, with birth usually occurring between March and June. The average gestation time is nine months. Mothers of newborn pups are devoted to their offspring while nursing. For the first 5-to-6 weeks of a newborn’s life, the mother is so busy safely raising her pup that she will not eat. The pups go from 35 pounds at birth to roughly 175 pounds while being nursed. The mothers, though, will lose hundreds of pounds during this time. Once finished nursing her pups, the mothers will abandon their offspring and head out to the ocean to feed.
  6. Hawaiian monk seals feed primarily in deep water coral beds on fish, lobster, octopus and squid.
  7. Humans are the biggest threat to Hawaiian Monk Seal survival. Though we don’t outright hunt them, they will often get entangled in fishing nets and gear. We also encroach on their coastal resting places. Tiger sharks and Galapagos sharks are known to prey on them. Finally, male Hawaiian monk seals will often group up and kill or injure females and immature monk seals of both sexes during a mating ritual called “mobbing”.
  8. Native to Hawaii, the Hawaiian monk seal and the Hawaiian hoary bat are the only two mammals endemic to the Hawaiian islands.
  9. The Hawaiian and the Mediterranean monk seals are the last two surviving monk seals in the world. The Caribbean monk seal, which was once the third type of monk seal, was declared extinct in 2008. In 2016, it was estimated there are 1,400 Hawaiian seals in existence.
  10. The Hawaiian monk seal was officially declared an endangered species in November, 1976.

Have you seen a Hawaiian monk seal on Maui? If so, where? Please tell us your story in the comments below…

Seeing whales on a whale watch tour is awesome. No doubt about that. But do you know what else is awesome? Seeing dolphins! One of the best ways to see them is on our snorkel tour to Lanai. Spinner dolphins, the type you are most likely to see around Maui, are considered one of the most athletic sea mammals for their amazing aerial leaps.. Here are 10 facts about these beautiful creatures.

  1. The scientific name for spinner dolphins is stenella longirostris.
  2. There are four sub-species of spinner dolphins and they are often called long-snouted dolphins. The spinners in Maui’s waters are often referred to as Gray’s dolphins (named for John Gray, the researcher who first described them in 1828) or Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
  3. Hawaiian spinner dolphins feed mainly on small fish, squids and shrimps. They feed at night and will often dive over 250 yards to eat.
  4. Female spinners reach sexual maturity between 5.5 and 10 years, while the males can reproduce between 10 and 12 years old. The gestation period for the dolphins is 10 months
  5. Hawaiian spinners are primarily three colors. The skin on the dorsal area is a deep gray, while its sides are a lighter shade of gray. The bottom portion of the dolphin is white. The dorsal fin area has small white spots.
  6. Because dolphins need to consciously think about breathing, when they sleep only half of their brain rests at a time. The awake half needs to tell it breathe and monitor its surroundings.
  7. Though the dolphins primarily breathe through their blowholes, Hawaiian spinners have developed a method of breathing without surfacing from the water. They blow a bubble when near the water surface and then quickly draw breath from it. Dolphins are so smart!
  8. When spinning, the dolphins can make up to seven complete rotations in the air!
  9. Though no one knows for sure, it’s believed the dolphins spin for the following reasons:
    • To clean their bodies of parasites (this is the most common assumption)
    • For courting members of the opposite sex
    • To communicate with other dolphins
    • For fun!
  10. Besides spinning, they are also known to do full aerial somersaults(!), head slaps, tail slaps, and spyhops (when they stick their heads out of the water to take a peek).

Have you seen spinner dolphins? Tell us about your experience in the comments below. Thanks!

We often get asked what types of whales, dolphins and sharks are spotted here in Maui. This is not a complete list, just the ones that are most often seen from Maui’s shores and while on whale watch and snorkeling tours.

Spinner Dolphins (Very common)
We consistently see spinner dolphins on our Lanai snorkel tours, where they will play in the wake of our boats. These friendly dolphins are generally 4-to-7 feet in length and weigh between 50-to-170 pounds. The spinner dolphins of Maui feed at night, primarily on small fish, squid and shrimp.


Bottlenose Dolphins (Somewhat common)
Though similar looking to spinner and spotted dolphins, bottlenose dolphins are much larger in size, ranging from 6-to-13 feet and weighing up to 660 pounds. They also have a thicker, shorter rostrum (beak) that old-time sailors thought looked like a gin bottle, hence its name. Grey up top and white on its belly, the bottlenose dolphin is difficult to see from both above and below.


Short-Finned Pilot Whales (Somewhat rare)
A member of the dolphin family, short-finned pilot whales, with their rounded foreheads and snouts, look like whales. They are mostly dark colored with light grey stomachs and throats. Short-finned pilot whales grow to about 18 feet in length and can weigh up to 6,600 pounds. They feed primarily on squid and have been dubbed the “cheetahs of the deep” for the way they chase down squid while hundreds of meters deep.

False Killer Whales (Rare)
We’ve seen a couple of false killer whales during the 2017-2018 whale season on our whale watch tours, but for the most part, these are rarely spotted in Maui. They are quite large, averaging 16 feet in length and they can weigh up to 4,900 pounds. False killer whales are black with grey throats. Like actual killer whales, false killer whales will hunt other marine mammals.


Blacktip Reef Sharks (common)
Growing to an average length of about 6 feet, blacktip sharks are easily identified due to their, wait for it… blacktipped fins. They tend to feed most often at dawn and dusk, mainly on shellfish, squid, octopus and bony fish. There have been very few incidents involving human/blacktip interactions and no fatalities.


Whitetip Reef Sharks (common)
The whitetip reef shark is the only shark in Hawaii with the ability stop swimming and rest for long periods of time. They generally do this in caves or under ledges. They can grow up to 6 feet long and are not considered dangerous to humans.



Hammerhead Sharks (rare)
In Hawaii, hammerhead sharks have been seen up to 14 feet in length, though they tend to average out at about 7 feet. Here on Maui, hammerhead sightings are far less frequent than the other islands where they give birth and raise pups. They are most commonly seen while scuba diving off of Molokai. When they do come close to shore on Maui, they warrant beach closings. The last occurring in November, 2016.


Whale Sharks (rare)
Though rare, there were two prominent sightings of whale sharks in Maui in 2017, both occurring near Molokini. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, weighing up to 21 tons and measuring out from 18′-to-33′. They feed by swimming with their mouths open and filtering everything that comes into its path.


Humpback Whales (Common)
Whale season in Maui refers to when the humpback whales visit our waters. Officially, it runs from December – April. Though in 2017, the first humpback whales appeared in October and whale tours started in earnest in early November. Humpback whales are the fifth largest whales in the ocean, growing up to 60 feet long and weighing between 25 and 40 tons. To learn more about humpback whales, we ran a full series of articles:

Part 1: Humpback Migration from Alaska to Hawaii
Part 2: Why Humpbacks Breach
Part 3: Visual Guide of Humpback Actions
10 Fun Facts About Humpback Whales
Humpback Whale Q & A
Whale watch Q & A specific to our tours


Whale season in Hawaii refers to the return of the north pacific humpback whales every winter. While the cycle varies slightly every year, most people consider whale season to run from December to April. To get you ready for whale season, here are 10 fun facts about humpback whales.

  1. Most humpback whales don’t actually have a hump on their back. Instead, the name is derived from the hump that appears when they arch their backs prior diving.
  2. A humpback whale head is covered with tubercles (knobs). Each knob contains at least one piece of stiff hair. The purpose of the hair is not known, though some believe it’s used to detect motion.
  3. Humpback whales have two blowholes, one for each lung. Their lungs are roughly the size of a Toyota Prius. Unlike humans, the whales need to think about breathing. This is why they sleep with one eye open and only rest half of their brain at a time.
  4. Humpbacks have live births. Their pregnancy cycle lasts for about year. Once born, calves drink about 50 gallons of milk per day.
  5. Like fingerprints, each whale has distinct markings on the underside of their tails. Scientists use these markings to identify and track individual whales.
  6. The whales do not feed in Hawaii. However, when they hunt during the summer months in the northwest, they use a technique called bubble net fishing whereby they will circle and blow bubbles at their prey until the prey is contained in a tight ball.
  7. Humpback whales don’t have teeth. Rather they have what’s called baleen plates. These plates act like a filter, separating the tiny krill shrimp they eat from the water.
  8. The north pacific humpbacks are the fifth largest whale species on the planet and can grow to 60-feet long and weigh between 25 – 40 tons. Like most whales, females are longer than males. The whales have huge tails, measuring up to 18 feet wide.
  9. Humpback whale “songs” were first recorded in the early 1950s right here in Hawaii. Recent research has found that the songs last roughly between 7-to-30 minutes, though they often repeat songs for hours on end. The songs can be heard up to 20 miles away.
  10. Only the male humpbacks sing. The ability to sing is not something they are born with, rather they are taught at a young age.

Want to experience the whales up close? Save 10% by booking a whale watch tour with us here.

Maui Whale Watch Guides:

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.


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!


“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!

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 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.


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.



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!