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 August 2022 (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 four other species of baleen whales documented in Hawaiian waters that we’ve not yet encountered (blue, Bryde’s, gray, 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 dataMed/max tag duration (days)# Biopsy samples# Prey samples# Drone videos
Blainville’s beaked whale73431022423/15928114
Cuvier’s beaked whale931111515424/50707
Longman’s beaked whale1000000
Dwarf sperm whale982177000112
Pygmy sperm whale8000000
Sperm whale522*12411/151720
Pygmy killer whale64117286111/262018
Risso’s dolphin1841651014/14002
Short-finned pilot whale848802,8521535125/229297084
Fraser’s dolphin7500200
Killer whale52774112/25200
Melon-headed whale107391,885331312/25181026
False killer whale1143381385932/199218536
Pantropical spotted dolphin619503778114/21297010
Striped dolphin43300000
Spinner dolphin313235390011300
Rough-toothed dolphin518752,293231312/28188110
Common bottlenose dolphin377921,662291515/34211112
Fin whale212100100
Sei whale302400000
Humpback whale212480016012

*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