A Dive to Remember: Swimming with Wild Dolphins in Hawaii

15 September 2014

When people come to Hawaii, they are typically coming to stay in Waikiki. To clarify, Waikiki is a region in the city of Honolulu on the island of Oahu. And to be honest, Waikiki is a city in and of itself. Many people will come to the island and never leave this area and if they do they certainly won't head over to the west side of the island.

The west side of Oahu is very different from other parts of the island. First of all, it gets way less rain and is practically a desert. Two, there are almost no tourist attractions over there. In fact, if you do any tour of Oahu called "Circle Island" it will certainly cut out this chunk. Three, it's known for being the places where "real locals" come from.

Many people do not realize, however, that this is also the best part of the island to meet another kind of locals; dolphins.

Spinner dolphins are one of the four types of dolphins that can be found in the Hawaiian isles though they all go by the name nai'a in the native language. Despite the many myths and stories surrounding dolphins in Western cultures, dolphins are surprisingly absent in Hawaiian history. Which is funny because sharks are actually quite common in Hawaiian mythology and are generally depicted as kind and benevolent towards seafarers. Perhaps there was a translation error somewhere?

After about a 40 minute drive from Honolulu (which is really the longest you can drive on this island without ended up where you started) we arrived at Waianae Harbor. The staff on our small boat are all young and friendly. They give us the basics on how to use our snorkel gear and the boat sets out.

Except we don't really set out to sea. Our boat motors for a couple minutes, just barely out of the harbor, and stops.

'Alright, there they are!"

'Really?' I thought to myself looking back at shore, 'I could swim to here from the beach. There's no way dolphins are just chilling this close to land.'

Putting my faith in the crew, I get my gear together and jump in the water. I look down into the water and, to my disbelief, is a pod of dolphins swimming briskly right below me.

"Now don't swim at them," our guide reminds us, "They're technically sleeping so swimming towards them will trigger their defenses and they'll wake up."

This is a rule I didn't mind abiding as I know how much I hate being woken up. Also, as I mentioned when I did my shark cage dive, I'm all about tourism that considers the health and safety of the animal.

So I did exactly as the guide instructed; watched the patterns of the pod who were in fact just swimming in an oblong circular pattern and then swam to the next point they were going towards rather than swimming after them.

This proved to be a great technique and allowed me to get quite close to the dolphins without disturbing them. And look at that tiny little baby! I think I was living the dream of 8-year-old Aryn.

After snorkeling with the dolphins for a bit the crew gathered us up and boated us over to a 'turtle cleaning station'. I didn't know this would be a part of our itinerary but it was awesome!

All around us were tropical fish, nibbling at the shells of honu (sea turtles) in a beautiful reef. We swam with them for a while before returning to the boat for lunch and paddle boarding. The whole time we swam in the bay I could look out and still see the dolphins coming up for air from time to time.

I am happy to say that this tour is a great option for someone who is looking to see dolphins while traveling in Hawaii. While there are plenty of places to go on Oahu that have captive dolphins, I will continue my practice of only supporting organizations that promote the safety of the animal over monetary profit.

What's your favorite animal encounter while traveling?

This Wild Dolphin Snorkel was done with Discover Hawaii Tours in partnership with Eo Waianae Tours. Mahalo nui loa!

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  1. Woah!!! What an exhilarating experience! There have been a pod of Dolphins passing my hometown daily lately but obviously there would be no opportunity to swim with them in this climate! What awesome photos you got too!

    Thanks so much for sharing! xo

    1. That's too cool! Wish I could see them more often without having to go so far. I can't blame them from staying away from this busy city though!