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 December 2023 (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# Sightings with drone footage
Goose-beaked (Cuvier’s beaked) whale1041113019623/5210013
Blainville’s beaked whale76433422423/1592914
Longman’s beaked whale1000000
Cross seamount beaked whale0000000
Dwarf sperm whale102217800015
Pygmy sperm whale8000000
Sperm whale572*13410/151720
Pantropical spotted dolphin697683779213/2130004
Common bottlenose dolphin451991,783311715/3421414
Spinner dolphin381265390011301
Striped dolphin45300000
Risso’s dolphin1941651014/14002
Fraser’s dolphin7500200
Short-finned pilot whale887872,8531696025/229302029
Rough-toothed dolphin539812,293231312/2818813
False killer whale13641882971132/19922957
Melon-headed whale113421,885371611/2518006
Pygmy killer whale66117296111/262013
Killer whale62865116/28200
Humpback whale216490016010
Sei whale402400001
Fin whale212100100
Minke whale0000000
Blue whale0000000
Bryde’s whale0000000
North Pacific right whale0000000
Gray whale0000000

*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 at least once 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)
  • Deraniyagala’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon hotuala)

*Note the eighth species of baleen whale documented for Hawaiian waters was a gray whale seen on two different days in February 2022 – a publication on those sightings is available at this link.

Got photos? We have photo-ID catalogs of most of the species listed above. If you have photos that you would be willing to share, you can learn how to submit those to us at this link, or contact us at Hawaii@cascadiaresearch.org