Pantropical Spotted Dolphins in Hawaii

The generic Hawaiian name for dolphin is nai’a, and refers to all dolphins found in Hawaiian waters. Spotted dolphins are known as “kiko” and about all toothed whales / dolphins of Hawaii can be referred to as “puka-heads” or hole heads! Personalized, unhurried excursions with knowledgeable crew, and limited passenger counts make our dolphin encounters and year round whale watching unique.


pantropcial spotted dolphin in Hawaii

Scientific Name: Stenella attenuata

“The habitat of the spotted dolphin is clear, deep, tropical ocean. Its home waters are warm, lovely to look at, sparse of life — a marine desert. Spotted dolphins roam that country like Bedouins. Their oases are the plumes of upwelling and nutrients in the lee of islands, their dunes are the blue swells.

Of the thirty-odd species of oceanic dolphins, none makes a more striking entrance than Stenella attenuata, the spotted dolphin. Underwater, spotted dolphins first appear as white dots against the blue. The beaks of the adults are white-tipped, and that distinctive blaze, viewed head-on, makes a perfect circle… Around each white dot a gray dolphin materializes…” – Kenneth Bower (The Atlantic Online, read his full article)

pantropcial spotted dolphin in Hawaii

Common and abundant throughout Hawaii with a characteristic dark “cape” from the forehead to the dorsal fin. Spotting, if present – as they don’t get their spots until the age of 5 or so, consists of light spots on their darker areas or, dark spots on their lighter areas. Older dolphins are more heavily spotted. Spotting in Hawaii is minimal.

spotted leap

Spotted dolphins can leap an incredible 15 feet in the air – high enough to clear a double decker bus, or to look us on the flybridge right in the eye! The six foot long marine mammal effortlessly jumps an astounding two and a half times their own body length. The leaps follow a pattern, with spotted dolphins doing one huge initial jump followed by two or three more quickly afterwards.

Different dolphins jump in different ways. We can identify what species they are by how they’re jumping. Spotted dolphins jump a lot, but mainly alone – they also go straight up in the air, and wiggle a little bit before descending.

spotted dolphin and shearwater hawaii

Incredible creatures. astonishingly beautiful and incredibly brainy, spotted dolphins are extremely social creatures and form herds of a few dozen to more than a thousand dolphins.

As with many other dolphins of Hawaii, they appear to feed at night on the deep scattering layer. However daytime feeding is often witnessed.

There is some belief that Native Hawaiians (Kanaka Maoli) deemed this “porpoise” (as dolphins are generally called in Hawaii) to be a oceanic tribe with equal rights as their counterparts, the human villagers. They work/ed cooperatively with porpoise to fish.

Modern Hawaiian fishermen still enlist the spotted dolphins help in finding prime food fish such as tuna.

Our wildlife tours focus on education and conservation so that an interactive relationship can be maintained in the best interest of both humans and dolphins. We strive to foster admiration and deep respect for these wonderful marine mammals.