Meeting Spinner Dolphins in Hawaii

Today was the day I’d been dreaming about for the past month. We’d booked a catamaran tour and were hoping to see dolphins, whales and turtles off the west coast of Oahu. Nothing in nature is guaranteed, so I didn’t know what to expect.

We headed over to the Waianae Boat Harbor as the sun was rising. The west coast is the least touristy (and some would say slightly dangerous). Sure there’s poverty, but I think the dangerous reputation is exaggerated. The rumors might benefit the locals though, who probably don’t want swarms of tourists invading their towns.

highway to Waianae

A rainbow at the harbor was a good sign. There were three couples on board, us included, and three crew members: Captain Tori, a marine biologist, and two grad students who were studying the behavior of the animals we were hoping to see.

rainbow at harbor

I chose Wild Side Hawaii because they focus on conservation and ecologically sound business practices. The tours are small and put the animals first. Like me, they don’t condone captive swim-with-dolphin programs or marine parks that emphasize “entertainment.” Dolphins don’t belong in chlorinated cement tanks. I’ve seen the movie The Cove and I’ve learned that untold numbers of wild dolphins are slaughtered to catch the few that are suitable for captive programs. Families are torn apart and I don’t want to be any part of that.


But on this day, I was thinking of the free dolphins in the waters and wondering whether they’d choose to make an appearance. Even if they didn’t, the views were amazing, and the day was perfect. The clouds were blowing away, I had on my reef-safe sunblock, and I was ready for anything.

ready for anything

on a boat

We got to see a surfing competition from “backstage.” I’ve never seen something like this from the ocean side before!

surf from behind

Captain Tori explained all about the indigenous people who used to live in the valleys on Oahu and how they were agrarian and self-sustaining. Some were fierce warriors too and greatly feared.


Then, we saw a humpback whale! Wow! It was amazing to see her come up for air and “wave” to us. Then she disappeared into the water with a splash.


humpback again

I decided to live in the moment instead of living through my camera lens, so the pictures here are less than stellar. But I have the memories that will stay with me forever.

When the dolphins arrived, I was giddy. We watched them surf our wake and easily keep up with the boat. Spinner dolphins are small compared to the bottlenose dolphins people are familiar with. A male might be 6′ long at the most.

dolphins arrive

dolphin with boat

They still seemed big to me.

dolphins from boat

When the captain gave us the all-clear, we jumped in the water. I’m hope you’re not disappointed that I don’t have stories to tell of me riding dolphins or giving them kisses. These are, after all, wild animals. I was honored to be in their environment. I snorkeled quietly on the surface and watched pods of five to 13 “float” by under me. They seemed to move without even trying and the effortless way they glided through the water was not lost on me, a lousy swimmer.


I’m new to snorkeling and I’m still getting used to the calm, silent otherworld-ness of being underwater. And this was a great place to practice. The water was warm, calm, and clear to the bottom (even though it was probably 40′ deep). I didn’t use any lens filters–it really is that blue!

dolphin flukes

I have to include a farther-away shot so you can see the dolphins aren’t in a blue-painted tank. It is the ocean!

dolphins leaving

I would love to go back and snorkel again. I still have to see a sea turtle! If you want to experience nature and wild, free dolphins and whales, check out Wild Side Hawaii.


After the tour, we drove to the North Shore, a famed surfing location, and stopped for lunch and for a refreshing fresh fruit smoothie at Kahuku Farms. We continued clockwise around the island until we got back to Kailua. When we got back to our bungalow, we got ready for dinner and found a delicious Greek restaurant nearby.

Our trip was nearing its end. Last stop: A morning at the beach before flying home.


Filed under Ethical, Events, General

10 responses to “Meeting Spinner Dolphins in Hawaii

  1. Bob Eberhardt

    A tremendous read…..great pictures…..reminds me of our trip to Galapogos and being in the open environment with land and marine wonders of nature.

  2. Great pictures Jean, I love the rainbow in the harbor. And what an amazing experience to swim with wild dolphins. I also don’t like the capture of them for tourist experiences – “The Cove” made quite an impression on me too.

  3. I love this post – that looks so amazing and I really love that you’ve stressed the dolphins’ welfare. You rock!

  4. Great photos. Thanks for the write up. I think we’ll do the same trip in June when we’re there too!

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