Hawaiian Dolphin and Whale Species

There are 18 species of odontocetes (toothed whales) that have been documented in Hawaiian waters, and eight* species of mysticetes (baleen whales). We have seen all 18 species of odontocetes and three species of mysticetes in our work. Which species of odontocetes are seen most frequently depends in part on where you look – in shallow (<50 m) near-shore waters only three species are regularly found (bottlenose dolphins, spinner dolphins, false killer whales), whereas in very deep (e.g., >3,000 m) offshore waters the species most frequently found are striped dolphins, sperm whales, rough-toothed dolphins and pantropical spotted dolphins. Our work has covered waters from near-shore to about 5,000 m depth, but about 50% of our total effort has been in waters 1,000 m deep or less, so the species we’ve encountered are somewhat biased towards more shallow-water and slope species.

Photo (c) Robin W. Baird
False killer whale leaping. Photo (c) Robin W. Baird.

A table of some of our Hawaiian cetacean datasets ordered by taxa and based on research from 2000 through mid-2021 (with over 3,500 sightings total) is below. This list is based on work throughout all the main Hawaiian Islands, and includes both odontocetes and mysticetes. Photos and additional information on these species can be found by clicking on the species name. There are three other species of baleen whales documented in Hawaiian waters that we’ve not yet encountered (blue, Bryde’s and North Pacific right whales), that we hope to some day add to this list!

Species (click on the name for more information on each species) # Sightings # with >1 species  # Individuals photo ID’d # LIMPET tags # with dive data Med/max tag duration (days) # Biopsy samples # Prey samples # Drone videos
Blainville’s beaked whale 71 4 310 21 4 23/159 28 1 14
Cuvier’s beaked whale 93 11 115 15 4 24/50 7 0 7
Longman’s beaked whale 1 0 0 0 0 0 0
Dwarf sperm whale 98 2 177 0 0 0 1 12
Pygmy sperm whale 8 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sperm whale 52 2 * 12 4 11/15 17 2 0
Pygmy killer whale 64 11 728 6 1 11/26 20 1 8
Risso’s dolphin 17 4 165 1 0 14/14 0 0 2
Short-finned pilot whale 840 79 2,852 150 48 25/229 297 0 84
Fraser’s dolphin 7 5 0 0 2 0 0
Killer whale 4 2 68 4 1 12/25 2 0 0
Melon-headed whale 103 39 1,885 29 9 12/25 181 0 26
False killer whale 113 33 813 85 9 32/199 218 5 36
Pantropical spotted dolphin 619 50 377 8 1 14/21 297 0 10
Striped dolphin 42 3 0 0 0 0 0
Spinner dolphin 304 23 539 0 0 113 0 0
Rough-toothed dolphin 511 74 2,293 22 12 12/28 188 1 10
Common bottlenose dolphin 371 85 1,662 28 14 15/34 211 1 12
Fin whale 2 1 21 0 0 1 0 0
Sei whale 3 0 24 0 0 0 0 0
Humpback whale 212 48 0 0 16 0 12

*We’ve contributed our sperm whale photos to a catalog compiled by Jay Barlow at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, but are working on compiling a catalog based on dorsal fins and pigmentation patterns, in addition to fluke shape. Most of our photo-ID catalogs are more-or-less up-to-date, but there are some (e.g., melon-headed whales, spinner dolphins) where we have large numbers of photos that have not yet been matched to our catalogs. We’ll be updating the numbers in the list above a couple of times a year.

Several additional species of odontocetes are likely to be recorded in Hawaiian waters in the future, based on their overall distribution patterns. These species are:

  • Short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis)
  • Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)
  • Ginko-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon ginkgodens)
  • Mesoplodon hotuala, a species of beaked whale recently re-discovered from Palmyra Atoll and other locations in the western Pacific.

*Note the eighth species of baleen whale documented for Hawaiian waters was a gray whale seen in February 2022 – a report on that sighting is available at this link.

Got photos? We have photo-ID catalogs of most of the species listed above. So if you have photos, please contact us at Hawaii@cascadiaresearch.org