Viewing Marine Wildlife in Hawaiʻi

Ocean recreation in Hawaiʻi can include encounters with marine wildlife. For their protection and your safety, view them responsibly. Sea turtles, monk seals, dolphins and whales are wild animals and protected under state and federal laws.

Hawaiian monk seal and green sea turtle sleeping on the beach sand.

Wildlife Viewing Responsible Viewing

  • View from a distance. Use binoculars or your camera’s zoom for a close up.
  • Do no disturb sea turtles or monk seals sleeping on the beach.
  • Never touch, chase, or feed. Animals are wild, unpredictable, and protected.
  • Limit viewing time to a few minutes.
  • Never swim with spinner dolphins—they rest and nurture their young during the day.
  • View dolphins and whales from a boat or from shore.

Marine Life Viewing Distances

Sea Turtles

  • View from at least 10 feet (3 meters)—on land and in water.
Basking green sea turtle on the beach.

Green turtle resting (basking) on the beach in Waialua, Hawaiʻi.

Hawaiian monk seals

  • Stay behind any signs or barriers.
  • Use the "rule of thumb" to determine a safe distance (if no signs or barriers are present)
    1. Make a "thumbs up" gesture and extend your arm straight in front of you.
    2. Turn your thumb parallel to the ground in your line of sight of the seal.
    3. If your thumb covers the entire seal, you are far enough away (about 50 feet or 15 meters).


  • Stay back at least 50 yards (45 meters).

Humpback Whales

  • Do no approach within 100 yards—federal law.

Report Reporting

NOAA Statewide Hotlines for marine animal emergencies (sea turtles/seals/dolphins/whales): 1-888-256-9840. If you see a sick, injured, stranded, or dead marine mammal or sea turtle, immediately contact your local stranding network.

For illegal or suspicious activity, call 1-800-853-1964 or (808) 643-DLNR (3567). Email photos and videos to


Viewing Marine Life

Watching marine animals in their natural habitat can be a positive way to promote conservation and respect for animals and their environment.

Monk seal on beach. The sign in the foreground instructs people to walk around the seal.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on August 31, 2020