Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer
Back to Blog

Hawaiian Spinner dolphins

a bird swimming in water

While for some people, Hawaiian vacation mainly means lying on the beach and tasting unique, authentic cuisine, visiting Hawaii, you have a chance to see the ultimate wonders of the Marine World. Most sea creatures you might only have seen on the TV before live in these waters peacefully and will gladly reveal their secrets if you treat them with care and respect.

Marine animals play the most crucial role in Hawaiian culture. Nai`a or Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are among the most famous of them. These peculiar animals are a bit different from most dolphins you might have seen before. The colors, silhouette, and behavior are highly peculiar and have attracted the attention of marine experts and regular people for centuries.

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins got their name for their highly playful behavior. They are often seen jumping high out of the water and spinning around just like they are dancing on the Ocean`s surface. However, this playful nature did not only gain them millions of admirers from all over the world but, in a way, became a real curse for them that at some point put this graceful breed on the edge of extinction.

In this article, we shall talk about the world-famous Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins and what made them one of the greatest tourist attractions in Hawaii and see how people learn to live with those amazing creatures side-by-side with mutual respect and care.

Why do Spinner Dolphins spin?

Dolphins are widely known for their friendly and playful nature. They are smart and social marine animals that are incredibly interesting to observe and communicate with. However, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins might be the ultimate celebrities in the whole Dolphin family.

Those creatures set up an ultimate show for spectators, spinning and dancing on the surface of the water. Some may also say that they are great singers. Anyway, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are among the loudest and the most active marine creatures.

In fact, scientists and marine biologists still cannot agree on why the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are actually leaping and spinning so actively, while other dolphins with presumably similar physics and behaviour patterns don`t put up such shows.

However, there are several theories that explain their artistic behaviour. One of them is that these dances are a form of communication between Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. This idea, of course, roots in the fact that dolphins, in general, are extremely social animals. They always communicate with each other and sometimes even “speak foreign languages,” communicating with other types of marine fauna, warning about danger, or pointing at a source of food.

That is why the first thing people supposed when they noticed spinner dolphins` peculiar behaviour is that it is another way to communicate, warn, set borders, establish leadership, etc. Scientists started observing the spins and leaps of Nai`as and came to the conclusion that there are certain pattens in this behaviour, which may mean that “dancing” is indeed a unique communication language for these peculiar animals.

However, those behaviour patterns are pretty volatile, and therefore, despite the fact that the “communication theory” is the mainstream one, it is still not fully proven. For example, the songs of Humpback Whales or even sounds that Spinner Dolphins make are much more distinguished and structured and therefore are more likely to be the means of communication when leaping and spinning over the water.

There is another extremely practical explanation for this behaviour of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. Some marine biologists assume that the dolphins may leap and spin and behave so actively as they are trying to remove the Remoras, a sort of suckerfish, from their bodies. So why do Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins do so while others don`t? As we have already mentioned, the spinner dolphins` physiology is a bit different from their brethren, which makes them a truly unique kind. Above all, they have particularly sensitive bodies. On the one hand, it makes them excellent navigators who are able to feel the slightest change in water temperature and stream direction. But on the other hand, it makes them particularly sensitive to “unwanted contact” from creatures like suckerfish.

In other words, whatever we consider as joyful playfulness may vice versa be a sign of irritation and attempt to shake the uninvited guests of the dolphins` bodies.

Spinner Dolphins are a whole different type of dolphins.

If you have never lived next to the Ocean, everything you may know about dolphins` behaviour and character may come from the “Flipper” television series. Although pretty educational and entertaining, this show gave life to numerous misunderstandings and stereotypes about these peculiar marine animals.

People tend to treat them like “sea dogs” and often risk damaging their ecosystem and natural behaviour patterns due to these misconceptions. However, Dolphins are wild animals. Although they are pretty social and “open-minded,” dolphins live and behave according to their instincts and patterns established by millions of years of evolution.

And among them all, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins might be the most misunderstood. We have already mentioned that their “playful” behaviour may have nothing to do with a desire to perform and draw attention. Also, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are known as pretty rough players.

Unlike most other dolphins that hardly ever “get handy” with their teeth, Hawaiian spinner Dolphins are known as pretty vicious biters. They often scrape or rake each other with those sharp teeth or use them to protect themselves from predators.

In fact, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins might have developed this pretty aggressive character as an answer to the dangers of their natural inhabitant. The Heavenly Hawaiian waters are home to numerous predators such as sharks, killer whales, false killer whales, pygmy killer whales, and short-finned pilot whales.

All these predators gladly prey on Hawaiian Spinner Whales and especially their youngsters. Dolphins have pretty tight social and especially family bonds. Once they feel threatened, they tend to gang up against the offender and protect themselves fiercely.

Are Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins endangered?

It is pretty hard to give a more or less accurate estimate of the current population of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. The latest attempt was made almost 20 years ago when scientists performed a ship line-transect survey done within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands.

According to the data from the survey, there were around 3,300 Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins spotted in the area. However, these counts are far from accurate. The dolphins tend to spend most of their time in the warm shallow waters. These areas are usually safe as big predators simply cannot get there. That is why it is not only the best place to hunt, rest, and mate, but also a perfect “playground” for the dolphins` youngsters.

The problem is that survey watercraft cannot get to these shallow waters, and therefore it remains unclear how many dolphins were hidden from the ship`s eye during the latest survey.

However, today experts have enough data to claim that although Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are not considered endangered species yet, their population around the Hawaiian Islands is clearly declining.

Many experts suspect that the Spinner Dolphins may have started to relocate and explore other inhabitants. In other words, they may not be exclusively Hawaiian anymore.

The most obvious reason for that is the exaggerated interest in those peculiar animals, which often turns into an ultimate harass. It is pretty understandable that people want to get as close as possible to such unique graceful creatures and even join them, but such interference into their ecosystem may be the main reason why the Dolphins might have started to migrate, looking for a more peaceful scene for their kind. In other words, nosy humans are worse than sharks and killer whales when it comes to the preservation and development of the dolphins` population.

Can you swim with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins?

Unfortunately, close contact between humans and Spinner Dolphins can be mutually dangerous. On the one hand, Dolphins live according to a very strict schedule, and they do need their “beauty sleep” hours. Although dolphins don`t really sleep but simply enter a “stand-by” mode, swimming quietly in shallow water, these resting hours are crucial for their health and wellbeing.

Once distracted, the Spinner Dolphins may get disoriented, break their feeding patterns, and therefore suffer greatly for a very long time after just one indelicate contact with a human.

That is why the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has issued a rule in September 2021 which made any physical contact or even getting closed to 50 yards to the Dolphins illegal. The authorities and experts believe that this regulation will help to restore balance in the Dolphins` natural ecosystem and restore their population around the Hawaiian Islands.

At the same time, as we have already mentioned, The Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are pretty rough players. They can get pretty aggressive and even attack once felt threatened. When a human gets close to them, they become extremely alarmed and start to observe the stranger closely, trying to understand whether they are dealing with a predator. If you provoke them somehow with a loud noise or a sudden movement, there is a huge risk of attack, which can be pretty aggressive and even dangerous.

That is why it is essential to address professionals once you want to observe these majestic creatures safely, legally, and responsibly.

Contact Hawaii Ocean Charters planning your next Hawaii vacation and get a chance to discover the wonders of the Ocean and meet the fascinating sea creatures under the guidance of experienced professionals, and enjoy the comfort of the safety of the finest boats.

  • Posted in: