For those of you lucky enough to make it to Maui, you’re in for a special treat. Besides all the gorgeous beaches, delicious food, fascinating culture, and rockin’ land activities (we’ll stop patting ourselves on the back now), you may also get the chance to see one of the state’s most beloved ocean species, the spinner dolphins.
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Called Naiʻa in Hawaiian, these friendly and beautiful animals flock to the shores of Maui to enjoy the warm, clear, tropical water and shallow bays. Four different species of the spinner dolphin exist, spanning parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans, but the Hawaiian spinner dolphins make up their own subspecies and are easy to spot due to the unique coloring of dark grey on their backs, a stripe of a lighter grey on their sides and a white or pink belly, as well as their long, thin beak and triangular dorsal fin.
Off Maui, the spinners usually rest in shallow bays during the daytime, and as it approaches dusk, move farther offshore to feed, sometimes diving as deep as 1,000 feet to catch their prey. Using echolocation and whistling to both hunt and protect themselves from danger, these dolphins see the beauty in numbers, traveling in schools of anywhere from a few members to a few hundred. Off the coast of Lana’i Island, huge schools of spinner dolphins are seen regularly.
So why are they called spinner dolphins? Well, as you may have suspected, they like to spin. A lot. These dolphins are known for jumping high into the air, spinning anywhere from one to seven times before they hit the water. While the cause of this is not scientifically proven, researchers think this is done for a mixture of reasons, including attention, courtship displays, getting rid of water in their upper respiratory tract, resetting their organs, ridding themselves of parasites, or simply because it’s super fun. Whatever the reason, we appreciate it and love their presence around the islands.
If you’re dying to see some spinner action on your next visit to Maui, there are several great tours that will allow you to see these majestic creatures up close and personal, including trips to the neighbor island of Lanai, where they love to hang out. They’re here year-round, so get out on the water and watch them in action!