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How to Swim with Dolphins in Hawaii in 2024

Maybe you’re wondering why you should add a swim with dolphins in Hawaii to your bucket list in 2024. Well, if you’ve never been swimming with dolphins in the ocean before, Hawaii is an ideal location for it. Dolphins inhabit Hawaii waters year-round, the waters are warm, and there are over a dozen species that call the islands home.

People have been fascinated with dolphins for many years, and travelers to Hawaii often miss out on this incredible experience simply due to unfamiliarity. While captive encounters are also possible in Hawaii, wild dolphin swims are the most ethical and exciting way to experience these magical creatures. 

Which Dolphins Can You Swim with?

Swim with Dolphins in Hawaii

 

There are up to 18 species of dolphins that can be seen in the Hawaiian Islands. When exploring the deeper waters, there are many exciting species of dolphins to see. Pelagic – or deep-water – species such as spotted & rough-toothed dolphins are often found 3+ miles offshore in depths of 3000+ feet of water.

Cascadia Resarch has a fantastic overview of all of the dolphins that have been documented residing in Hawaii. Our favorite species to encounter are the common Bottlenose, Pantropical spotted dolphin and Rough-toothed dolphins.

Is it Legal to Swim with Wild Dolphins in Hawaii?

 

The Hawaiian Spinner dolphins are the smallest species of dolphin in Hawaii and the third smallest in the world. The Spinners rest in the safety of the shallow bays close to shore during the mornings and early daytime. Regulations protecting these dolphins have been implemented to minimize disturbances as they get this crucial rest. 

The NOAA regulation explicitly “prohibits swimming with, approaching, or remaining within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin. The rule applies to any vessel, person, or object that is within 2 nautical miles from shore in the main Hawaiian Islands”. In the past, an overwhelming number of swimmers by boat and from shore interrupted their sleeping patterns and posed a threat to their repopulation abilities. 

After the NOAA regulations, many boats couldn’t make the journey offshore necessary to find dolphins that were not resting. That left just four companies to continue offering swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat, including Aloha Ocean. The dolphins that Aloha Ocean encounters are fully awake and completely legal to swim with at this point in time. 

Where can you swim with Dolphins in Hawaii?

The west coast of Oahu is the only place on all of the islands that still offers wild swim with dolphins in Hawaii experiences on tours. It is illegal across the other major islands of Hawaii, including Big Island, Maui and Kauai. 

All of these tours in Oahu are led by professionals in the field who have been working on Hawaiian waters for years. This makes Oahu an extra special island to visit during your trip to Hawaii!

Aside from the amazing dolphin experiences, Oahu’s west coast is rich in Hawaiian history and has one of the most beautiful mountain ranges in Hawaii. On the tour you can see Makua, the birthplace of the island. Ka’ena point, a native bird and Hawaiian monk seal sanctuary. You’ll also see the tallest and smallest mountains on the island, the old royal harbor and much more! 

Why You shouldn't try to Swim from Shore

 

For many people, it can be tempting to swim out from the shore in hopes of swimming with wild dolphins. The Hawaiian Spinner dolphins can be seen from the shoreline, enticing both visitors and locals to jump in. 

But this is not recommended for several reasons. The first being that we must respect the Spinners resting place and the laws placed around them. The Earth Island Journal explains that the “maximum penalties for violation of the law include a civil fine of $27,500 or – for criminal penalties – one year in prison and/or a $100,000 fine”. 

Furthermore, there are many dangers with swimming considerable distances from the beach. Being in the ocean without the proper gear and identifiers can result in catastrophic events. Every side of Oahu’s coastline has high boat traffic. Without the proper float or flags, it can be extremely hard for a boat to spot a swimmer in the water, putting the swimmer at considerable risk. 

In addition, weather and ocean conditions are ever-changing and unpredictable. Even the most experienced swimmers with knowledge of the coastline are at the mercy of mother nature. As tempting as it may be, the safest and best way to see wild dolphins is to explore offshore with a professional tour operator.

How to Swim with Dolphins in Hawaii?

Guest experiencing an oahu dolphin swim with pelagic dolphins

Booking with an established tour company like Aloha Ocean is your best bet if you are hoping to swim with dolphins in Hawaii.

Aloha Ocean offers small group tours of up to 6 guests to allow everyone an intimate experience with the wildlife. Also, it is captained by a local expert who is happy to share his knowledge and passion for the ocean with each of his guests.

Aloha Ocean will position you ahead of the direction they are swimming and allow you to enter the water. As you patiently wait the boat will turn off its engines to keep noise to a minimum.

In the open ocean, it’s easy for the dolphins to not be seen if they wished. And in times like that, it’s best to respect their space and continue searching for other marine life to observe. However, oftentimes they will swim close by, glancing over at you curiously. Sometimes they will even stop to circle around the swimmers clicking and whistling!

Escape the concrete jungles of Waikiki and explore the raw Hawaiian beauty of the ocean and its marine life!