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Maui‘s Amazing Dolphins

Maui’s Most Engaging Wildlife

Aboard the Maui Magic, and our Dolphin Discovery Adventure Snorkel, we are often treated to the aerial acrobatic feats of the Spinner Dolphins as they jump, flip (and as their name suggests) and spin through the air! The dolphins also just love riding the bow of the boat or the boat’s wake (sort of like surfing for dolphins) and we get a chance to view them up close and personal!  

And boy are they fast!  The Maui Magic is one of the faster charter boats in Maui.  And yet, despite the Magic easily cruising at speeds of about 18mph (15 knots), the dolphins seem to effortlessly stay ahead of her and even move past her when they feel the need.  It is amazing to see just how fast and agile these beautiful creatures really are!

One very important fact is to be mindful that the state prohibits intentionally swimming with wild dolphins and it is illegal here in Hawaii. On the other hand, if you just happen to be in the water and dolphins happen to cross your path, then that is all is good. This law is meant to protect the species by not causing them undue stress. We want all our dolphins here to be happy, contented campers so they stick-around and we get to enjoy their antics!

All dolphins are carnivores and have teeth.  Like whales, they possess a pair of pectoral fins (or flippers), a tail, fluke and a single blowhole used for breathing. However, unlike the Humpback whales, dolphins reside here in the islands throughout the year. They don’t have a migratory pattern like the whales, which takes them out of Hawaii after the winter months.

Spinner Dolphins

The Spinner Dolphins (also known as the long-snouted dolphins) are the ones that we see most frequently on the Maui Magic, particularly in the La Perouse Bay area, although they can surprise us anywhere and at any time! The number in a pod of dolphins varies, anywhere from just a couple to up to 20 or more. Occasionally, we will see over a hundred dolphins at one time, seemingly flying in and out of the water, which is an amazing treat!

Full grown Spinner Dolphins range in length from about 6 to 7 feet and weigh between 130 – 170 pounds. They live to be between 20 and 25 years. Generally the Spinner Dolphins have a dark gray back, lighter gray sides and their underside is white. Aboard the Maui Magic, we encountered a very special dolphin one day. While we’re not sure that it was technically an albino, it was such a very pale gray that it was almost white!

Breeding season is year round for the Spinner Dolphin. The gestation period is estimated to be between 10 and 11 months, after which the single calf is born. The baby is usually about 2 ½ feet long and will nurse from 1 to 2 years. There is nothing like spotting a baby dolphin practicing jumps and spins, as Mom and the rest of the adult pod looks on. Too adorable!

Mother and calf can share share a special bonding throughout their lives, although all dolphins are extremely social with one another and communicate using a combination of clicks and whistles. Each dolphin has a unique frequency that allows the dolphins to recognize who is “speaking”.

During the evening hours is generally when the dolphins go further out to sea to search for food. Favorite items on the menu for them include fish, shrimp and especially squid. The dolphins locate their prey by using echolocation.

After actively hunting during the night, the dolphins come near shore to rest. They don’t really go to sleep as we know it. Instead the dolphins go into a semi sleep state which allows half of their brain to remain active while they are resting. This semi sleep state is what helps dolphins stay partially alert and not drowning.

Bottlenose Dolphins – Think “Flipper"

While we do see Bottlenose Dolphins, there aren’t as many around Maui as there are Spinner Dolphins. The Bottlenose Dolphins are quite a bit larger which makes it easy to determine which dolphin is which.

The adult Bottlenose Dolphin is about 7 to 13 feet long and weights anywhere between 300 – 1,400 pounds. Like the Spinner Dolphins, the Bottlenose Dolphins also have bodies which are dark gray on top, lighter gray on the sides and almost white on their under-body. The Bottlenose Dolphin’s lifespan is between 15 and 30 years, with a few of these dolphins being known to live until the age of 40!

All dolphins are built for speed in the water. Unlike most mammals, they don’t have any hair on their skin which would slow them down (think Olympic swimmers). In fact the Bottlenose Dolphin replaces its outmost layer of skin every 2 hours!

Quite often when we encounter the Bottlenose Dolphins, they seem to be hanging out near the Humpback Whales for some reason or another. Maybe they’re just impressed with the whales’ gigantic size! Who knows?

Is it a School or is it a Pod?

Dolphins tend to form long-lasting groups. A group of one species of dolphins between 2 and 40 is called a pod. Groups larger than that, even in the 100’s are called a school or herd. The schools or herds can be comprised of more than one species. For example, here on Maui when we encounter a school of dolphins it is often made up of Spinner Dolphins and the lesser scene Spotted Dolphins all swimming together.  So when it comes to dolphins... both "school" or "pod" can be used to describe them in numbers.

Bull, Cow and Calf

Like whales, the gender and age of a dolphin uses the same nomenclature as cattle.  Why?  No idea.  But, the male dolphin is the "BULL", while the female dolphin is called a "COW" (Although I am not sure the female dolphin was able to cast her vote in this naming system, so we respectfully refer to her as "MOM"), and the baby is referred to as a "CALF".