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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.

A Hawaiian monk seal rests leaning on a green sea turtle as they both sleep 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 LifeViewing Distances

Sea Turtles

  • Recommended viewing distance: At least 10 feet (3 meters) away—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

  • Recommended viewing distance: At least 50 feet (15 meters) away—on land and in water.
  • View mother seals and their pups from at least 150 feet (about 45 meters) away
  • 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 likely far enough away (about 50 feet or 15 meters)

Dolphins and Small Whales

  • Recommended viewing distance for all dolphins and small whales: At least 50 yards (45 meters) away.
  • Spinner dolphins: Federal law prohibits swimming with, approaching, or remaining within 50 yards of spinner dolphins in Hawai‘i.

Humpback Whales

  • Required viewing distance: At least 100 yards away. Federal law prohibits approach within 100 yards, including by boat, kayak, drone, when swimming, or by any other vessel or means.

Report Reporting

If you see a sick, injured, stranded, or dead marine mammal (seals/dolphins/whales) or sea turtle, immediately contact the closest stranding network. In Hawai'i, call the statewide NOAA Marine Wildlife Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. 

Report illegal or suspicious activity to 1-800-853-1964, (808) 643-DLNR (3567), or the DLNRTip App. Email detailed photos and videos to RespectWildlife@noaa.gov.

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.

On Shipwreck Beach on the south coast of Kauai, Hawaii, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal takes a nap on the beach. The sign in the foreground instructs people to walk around the seal.

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on April 13, 2023