Hawaiian Odonotocete Species

Eighteen species of odontocetes (toothed whales) have been documented in Hawaiian waters, and we have seen all 18 of these species in our work. Which species 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

A list of Hawaiian odontocetes in order of encounter rate (most-frequently encountered at the top) based on research from 2000 through 2011 (with over 1,700 sightings total) is below. This list is based on work throughout all the main Hawaiian Islands - the rankings do vary by island area. Photos and additional information on these species can be found by clicking on the highlighted links below.

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.