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Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins





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There is about as much educational benefit to be gained in studying dolphins in captivity as there would be studying mankind by only observing prisoners held in solitary confinement." - Jacques Cousteau

We at the Wild Dolphin Foundation promote habitats that sustain biodiversity, cultures, and livelihoods in the face of human intrusion.

The spinner dolphins of our coastline have been habituated to humans since at least the 1960's. In recent years the number of tour boats visiting this resident pod has increased from a couple of boats in 1996, to 11 tour boats today. At one point there was one kayak operation of 15 vessels. We strive to convince decision makers that there is a carrying capacity on this rural coastline not only for the dolphins and their nearshore resting grounds, but for the lifestyles of the human community also impacted by this onslaught of unregulated tourism.


Most spinner dolphins are found in the blue water habitat of tropical oceans. The Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin uniquely frequents near shore waters, using specific areas for resting, socializing, mating, birthing and teaching their young. The time spent in nearshore waters serves as living laboratory to those studying the animals, for without massive budgets it would be all but impossible to be able to study the social structure and other behavioral aspects at sea.

While nearshore Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are known to range in Hawaiian waters year-round, many important details of their occurrence have yet to be documented.

Our studies seek to assess the number of dolphins inhabiting the Leeward Coast of Oahu and adjacent areas, determine what portion of these animals are resident or transient, investigate patterns of habitat use, and identify areas of critical habitat. The studies will ultimately asses the impact of tourism boat traffic on dolphins in the region and identify other anthropogenic and natural causes of disturbance, injury and mortality to dolphins.

What we learn about other animals can improve dolphin conservation efforts and perhaps avoid unrestrained growth of the dolphin watching industry.

Hawaiian False Killer Whales

Naturalists and whale biologists working aboard commercial whale watching vessels use benign techniques to learn more about the biology and ecology of false killer whales and other marine wildlife sighted in the waters of Hawaii. When an animal is sighted from the vessel, researchers record a variety of information about the animal or animals that are observed.

Information recorded on data sheets includes:

  • the time of the encounter
  • the position - latitude and longitude of the animal or group of animals
  • the behaviors that are observed
  • the overall health of individuals
  • photographic information for each individual
  • weather conditions

The information above can then be added to long-term databases and used to learn more about the distribution and movements of marine wildlife in Hawaii. Long-term studies based on non-invasive techniques, like photo-identification, require a large investment of time and effort, both offshore and when back on land. But long-term studies are often the only way to understand the biology and ecology of long-lived, social animals especially species like whales that live in areas difficult to access.

Sea Turtles

Green Sea Turtles are opportunistically photographed for identification purposes and to track spread of disease (tumors).

Life on Coral Reefs

We are involved with annual transects to monitor reefs on our coast in affiliation with Reef Check and REEF Survey. We are also setting up a separate, ongoing water quality sampling program for local beaches of concern because "accumulating evidence suggests that human activity in the watershed may be causally related to coral decline. Increases in the number of both new diseases and species affected may be directly linked to human-induced alterations in coral reef environments both in terms of land-based sources of pollution as well as global climate change issues such as global warming."


Robin W. Baird, Gregory S. Schorr, Daniel L. Webster, Sabre D. Mahaffy, Jessica M. Aschettino, Tori Cullins Sept, 2011, Movement and Spatial Use of Satellite-Tagged Odontocetes in the Western Main Hawaiian Islands: results of Field Work Undertaken Off O’ahu in October 2010 and Kaua’i in February 2011 Tech Report # NPS-OC-11-006CR

Source: Sutherland, K.P. et al. 2004. Disease and Immunity in Caribbean and Indo-Pacific Zooxanthellate Corals. Marine Ecology Progress Series 266: 273-302.