Top 10 Animal Adventures on the Big Island – By Sea

Thousands of miles away from any other land source, the Hawaiian Islands are a gem in the middle of the Pacific home to an incredible array of animals.

  • Green Sea Turtles are iconic in the Hawaiian Islands. Hawaii is the only place these turtles are known to come ashore to bask in the Pacific sun. The Big Island’s Punalu’u Black Sand Beach is a natural wonder and a great place to see these prehistoric animals. On any given day, you may see up to a dozen of these creatures dozing lazily just above the tide line. Another great viewing location much closer to the Inn is Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park.
  • Manta Rays are gentle giants. These peaceful filter feeders have no stingers, barbs, or teeth, and can reach widths up to sixteen feet across. A Kona specialty is the Manta Ray Night Dive or Snorkel, which you should not miss. After the sun sets, tour operators use powerful lights to attract plankton (a natural food source for mantas). If plankton is abundant, these huge and graceful creatures will swoop in and out of the beams, gulping mouthfuls of food. Whether scuba diving or snorkeling, it is awe-inspiring to see these incredible animals sweep through the water column. Many who have done this tour say it’s a highlight, not just of their vacation, but of their entire life.
  • Humpback Whales are Hawaii’s own snowbirds. From December through March up to 12,000 individuals (more than half of the entire Pacific population) make their temporary residence in the waters off the Hawaiian Islands to mate and give birth. They wow visitors and residents alike with their powerful and graceful displays of acrobatics. Breaches are often visible from shore, but to get a closer look at these incredible animals, join a whale watching boat tour. The Kohala Coast (kohala is the Hawaiian word for whale) provides some of the best whale watching on the Big Island, look for operators leaving from Kawaihae Harbor.


spinner dolphins on the Big Island

  • Spinner Dolphins, named for their characteristic leaping and spinning behavior, are synonymous with paradise. They often gather in tight family groups and come into the shallow bays to rest after hunting all night in the open ocean. Dolphins don’t sleep the same way humans do and rest while remaining partially active. Recent legislation has made it illegal to swim with spinner dolphins in Hawaii to protect them during this restorative part of their life cycle. Whether on a tour or snorkeling from shore, admire from a distance (150 yards), but do not approach them or try to initiate an interaction. Learn more about this at Amazing from Afar.

Seal on the Big Island of Hawaii

  • Hawaiian Monk Seals are endemic to Hawaii (only found here). Most reside around the uninhabited northwest islands, but a small population reside on the Big Island. Look for sandy beaches where seals can haul out to rest. Kekaha Kai State Beach Park is not far from the Inn and great place to start your search. North Kohala’s Keokea Beach Park also has a significant number reported sightings. If you are lucky enough to find one, remember to give them plenty of space (50 ft. minimum) and consider submitting your sighting details to the Marine Mammal Center’s Hawaiian Monk Seal Hotline, (808) 987-0765. Every sighting provides valuable information for researchers.

octopus on the Big Island of Hawaii

  • Coral are marine invertebrates and are major contributors to the physical structure of reefs. Honaunau Bay, locally known as “Two-step,” may just be the best snorkeling site on the Big Island and is a great place to enjoy the island’s stunning reefs. Ease of access, calm waters, and an abundance of marine life make this location a must-see. Grab some snorkel gear and beach towels from the Inn and take a journey down south. Dip into the water and you will see a shallow reef teeming with multi-colored reef fish, eels, sea cucumbers, sea stars and octopus. Lucky snorkelers can even see rays, reef sharks and sea turtles.

shark off the Big Island of Hawaii

  • Sharks are featured prominently in Hawaiian mythology and have great importance as aumakua (deified ancestors) to Hawaiian people. Hawaii is home to a variety of shark species including reef sharks, tiger sharks, hammerheads, and even whale sharks. Elusive, often shy, and facing global declines in their populations, it’s rare to see sharks in the wild. For the best chance to see one, choose a scuba diving tour from our Big Island diving guide, if you’re game for a thrilling adventure, join a blue water eco-adventure.
  • Hawaii’s Pelagic Animals are diverse and still greatly under-documented. The open ocean includes a stunning variety of fish, dolphins, whales, and invertebrates that make up an entire food chain separate from the coastal reef. A venture into this habitat is a journey into the realm of infinite possibility- you never know what you’re going to see.

For daytime, don’t miss a blue water eco-adventure. Take off into the blue to search for pilot whales, false killer whales, spotted and bottlenose dolphins, pelagic mantas, oceanic white-tip sharks, whale sharks and many other rarely seen animals. Searching for these critters in a vast ocean can be like searching for a needle in a haystack so some days you come back without having seen many animals. Really lucky individuals can see animals such as sperm whales, orca, or blue sharks. You don’t know if you don’t go!

For nighttime, dip into the unknown with a blackwater dive. Open only to scuba-certified divers, this tour takes divers a few miles offshore, away from the reef. Unfathomable numbers of animals make their way from the depths every night including jellyfish, cephalopods, and an incredible array of larval stages of fish and invertebrates. Operators turn bright lights on and divers (tethered to the boat) float in the black while alien-like animals swim by. Many say the experience feels like going into outer space.

All of these ocean animal encounters are within reach when you stay at the top-rated Big Island bed and breakfast, Holualoa Inn. Let our concierge team get you there!