The only American state in the tropics, Hawaii is an archipelago with diverse topography and ecology. Sitting atop volcanoes, the state has an exotic tropical climate, which attracts tourists and also provides a nurturing habitat for a varied number of animals.
Nearly 21,000 animal species have been discovered in Hawaii, which is astonishing as the state is relatively small, but not so surprising when you think about its unique ecosystem.
Related: Guide To The 6 Hawaiian Islands (Map Included)
What Kind Of Animals Live In Hawaii?
The ocean tract that surrounds Hawaii is home to a wide variety of marine life, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world. It’s noteworthy to mention that the Reef Triggerfish is the state fish of Hawaii.
As autumn comes to an end, humpback whales travel about 3,000 miles to be here for the mating season; the number of whales visiting Hawaii fluctuates between 8000 to 12000; a visit to Maui between November and February is your best chance to spot whales here.
Dolphins are a frequent sight too; about thirteen types of toothed dolphins prance around here, with a smaller number of Bottlenose and Spinner dolphins. Sharks are regular visitors as well; Tiger, Reef, and Whitetip sharks are the most common visitors.
Snorkelers attest to seeing Green turtles along the Hawaiian coastline. What’s more, the Hawaiian Monk Seal, an endangered marine mammal, is also a rare encounter here.
Scientists believe that this animal hasn’t evolved in about fifteen million years, which is what makes it susceptible to extinction. It is estimated that there are about 1100-1500 Hawaiian monk seals in the Hawaiian waters at present.
The bird life in Hawaii is diverse and extensive. Thanks to its fecund rainforests, the state is home to around 100 species of endemic birds. The Grey-Tailed Tattler, the Hawaiian Petrel, and the Nene are native to the state – Nene, also known as the Hawaiian goose, is a threatened bird species in the archipelago.
The Hawaiian Hoary Bat is another endemic mammal, although the bat is a Hawaiian native, it maybe sighted in the other states as well.
Recommended reading: Are there Snakes in Hawaii?
Are There Any Mammals In Hawaii?
Hawaii is home to more than 40 mammal species, and hoary bats and monk seals are the natives among them. Below is a list of some mammals you may encounter in the islands of Hawaii.
Brush-Tailed Rock Wallaby
The only marsupial species in Hawaii, the brush-tailed rock-wallaby can weigh up to 8 kg, with an approximate height of 58 cm. They have a bushy tail, hence the name, which is the signature physical characteristic – apart from the baby carrying pouch.
Oahu is the only place where you can spot them; where a small group of wallabies live in Kalihi Valley.
Hawaiian Hoary Bat
Native to Hawaii, the hoary bat got its name due to its fur coat and white tips – the bat is covered entirely in fur apart from the inside of its wings. Hoary bats can be found on Kauai’s islands as well as on the Island of Hawaii; you might also see them on Kahoolawe Island.
These mammals are rare and classified as endangered.
Indian Grey Mongoose
The primary residence of the Indian grey mongoose is India and West Asia, but they can be seen on the Hawaiian Islands too.
These animals were brought to Hawaii in 1883 as a solution to the mice problem, but they are considered a pest now and cannot be introduced or bred without permission.
The feral cat takes precedence in the hierarchy of land predators as Hawaii doesn’t have many predators. These cats are considered a threat to the upkeep of biodiversity, and authorities have removed the species from several islands where a significant increase in endangered species is witnessed.
Chital (Axis Deer)
Reddish-brown in colour, Chital is a deer moderate in size; they were introduced to Hawaii from Hong Kong.
Lanai and Molokai were the first islands to shelter Chital and they were later released to the Big Island, but these mammals are known to damage the Hawaiian landscape.
The Black rat, Norway rat, Pacific rat, and the house mouse are four of the rat species found in Hawaii. They can be spotted on almost every island and are considered a nuisance and a pest.
These rat species severely damage farmlands, and they are also disease carriers.
What Kind Of Birds Live In Hawaii?
Over 350 bird species take shelter on the Hawaiian Islands, with 59 of them being native to the archipelago. Numerous bird species have been introduced from Asia, South America, North America, Australia, and Africa, making Hawaii a paradise for bird lovers!
One of the seabirds, the Laysan albatross is a frequent sight in Hawaii. Their 80-inch wingspan is the most notable feature of the bird, and their lifespan, which is around 60 years, is another thing that makes them impressive.
You can see them everywhere in Hawaii, but Kauai and Oahu seem to be the most preferred by the Laysan albatross.
Japanese White Eye
Introduced to Hawaii by Japan in 1927, the Japanese white eye is a commonly seen bird on the islands. They have a diverse diet comprising of nectar, insects, and fruits, and they like to hang about in flocks.
Their white eye-ring and the yellow-green plumage are distinct features.
The red-crested cardinal came to be in Hawaii in 1930; they are another introduced bird species, brought down to the islands from South America.
These songbirds are a familiar sight in the Hawaiian urban areas. Almost every island shelters the red-crested cardinal, but they don’t live on the Big Island.
The rose-ringed parakeet was the first parakeet to come to Hawaii. They are native to India and Africa and now can be seen in Hawaii too, especially in botanical gardens – parakeets aren’t very welcome in Hawaii’s domestic regions on account of them being extremely loud.
The rose-ringed parakeet likes to stick with their families, and they are often seen in royal palm trees.
A pelagic bird that’s only seen in Hawaii, the Hawaiian Petrel is an endangered species. Their nesting grounds are threatened by feral cats and other invasive predators, but there are conservation efforts to protect them.
The Petrels have a particular moaning sound, which can be heard from their nests and also when they are in flight.
With their long tail, the White-rumped Shama is a beautiful bird to look at, and they are welcome in Hawaii’s domestic areas; their birdsong is delightful.
Brought to Hawaii from Malaysia, White-rumped Shama was introduced in 1931. Forested areas, parks, and gardens are routinely visited by these birds.
Other Birds To Look Out For
There are a few other species of birds worth your attention. Zebra Dove, Tiwi, Red-Whiskered Bulbul, Red-Tailed Tropicbird, Yellow-Fronted Canary, Hawaii Elepaio, Palila, Erckel’s Francolin, Nene, Hawaiian Owl, Western Meadowlark, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Red-Footed Booby, Pacific Golden-Plover, White Tern, Bristle-Thighed Curlew, Brown Noddy, Common Myna, and Northern Cardinal are part of the Hawaiian bird family.
Related: Are there Monkeys in Hawaii?
What Kind of Reptiles and Amphibians Live in Hawaii?
Amphibians, snakes, and land reptiles are not native to Hawaii; the ones you find here were introduced to the Hawaiian ecosystem.
You can see ten types of geckos here, and anole lizards, toads, two species of Asian soft-shell turtles, skinks, and frogs were brought to the islands in the 19th century as food for other animal species – frogs have now become a threat to the ecosystem as their appetite is quite indiscriminate and voracious.
What Kind Of Marine Life Is In Hawaii?
Hawaii has diverse and thriving marine life. The colourful marine world of the archipelago can be experienced through snorkelling or diving excursions, but you can visit the aquariums too.
Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles
Snorkelers and divers are often greeted by the Hawaiian green sea turtle – also called Honu. They are gentle and pose no threat to you; they are used to the presence of humans.
These turtles are protected, so refrain from touching them.
Spinner dolphins are a frequent sight in Hawaiian waters. They are quite playful and acrobatic; they like to spin around as they jump out of the water, hence the name spinner dolphins. These dolphins are friendly and like to follow tourist boats.
Kealakekua Bay south of Kona and Makako Bay north of Kona is where you have the best chance of seeing them.
The period from November to May is the best time to see humpback whales in Hawaii. They migrate to the warm waters that surround the archipelago in order to breed.
You can see them from almost any Hawaiian island, but for the best chance, visit Lanai, Molokai, and Maui.
Hawaiian Monk Seal
One of the two native mammals in Hawaii, the Hawaiian monk seal can be seen enjoying the tropical sun on the Leewards Islands. Only and estimated 1100 -1500 of them are alive at present, so the Hawaiian monk seal is a classified endangered species; their existence can only be ensured through conservation projects.
Monk seals can grow up to 7 feet. The male Hawaiian monk seal can weigh about 400 pounds, while the female weighs up to 450 pounds.
Northern Elephant Seal
One of the larger mammals in the world, the northern elephant seal, also called the sea elephant, is found in the Pacific Ocean; this is an aquatic mammal. Their name is the result of their trunk, which resembles an elephant’s trunk.
The male northern elephant seal has an approximate weight of 4,500 pounds, and it can grow up to 13 feet, whereas the females weigh about 1,300 pounds and can grow up to 10 feet.
These animals are rather difficult to see as they only come ashore to give birth.
A larger fish species, the manta ray has a wingspan of 20 feet, but they don’t have stingers like eagle rays or stingrays. The Kona Coast on the Island of Hawaii is the best place to see manta rays on a night excursion.
You can get up close with them on diving and snorkelling tours; most resorts arrange various activities for tourists who like to examine mantas closely.
Snorkelers and divers are in for a rich experience in Hawaii. A diverse range of fish reside in the surrounding waters, and around 20% of these fish species are only seen in Hawaii.
To see them in their natural habitats, visit Oahu, the Big Island, and Lanai.
Marine Invertebrates of Hawaii
You can also spot an array of marine invertebrates in the Hawaiian waters – if you are wondering what invertebrates are, they are species without a backbone. Some of the commonly seen invertebrates in Hawaii are snails, sponges, crabs, lobsters, octopuses, shrimps, and urchins.
Around 20% of Hawaii’s marine invertebrates are native to the islands.
Are There Any Endangered Hawaii Animals And What Are The Conservation Efforts?
Hawaii harbours the biggest number of endangered species in the United States; the state has the highest density of endangered species per square mile; a number of native species have already gone extinct here.
Preserving the natural beauty and the native species of the land has proven to be a challenge, but there are numerous conservation projects in place.
The Nature Conservancy, for instance, has taken on the responsibility of such projects; they also invest in education programmes to teach both natives and tourists about protecting the wildlife and the landscape; there are a number of projects spearheaded by locals as well.
Many regions of Hawaii are protected, and there are two UNESCO Heritage Sites. One is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which is home to two active volcanoes, and the other one is Papahānaumokuākea, a group of islands associated with local superstition – Hawaiians believe that this is where life begins, and souls return after death.
Although the state has lost some of its wildlife and plant life already, thanks to the many community projects, what’s left on the island face no imminent danger.
What Animals Are Not Allowed In Hawaii?
Not every animal can live or is allowed to live in Hawaii, which has to do with Hawaii’s vulnerable ecosystem. So, if you are thinking of buying a pet and having it brought to Hawaii, make sure you comply with the state’s laws and regulations concerning animal life.
The following animals are not allowed in Hawaii:
- Dragon Lizards
- Monk Parakeets
- Snapping Turtles
Swine, poultry, cattle, horses, and sheep are common domesticated animals, but they can only be imported under several legal requirements. However, dogs and cats can be brought in, and Hawaii is rabies-free.
Exotic Animals That Live In Hawaii
As fragile as it may be, Hawaii’s ecosystem is truly remarkable and unique. The islands provide a shelter for many species, but a few of these animals don’t seem to belong in Hawaii – but they are certainly thriving.
Wallabies, Peacocks, Zebras, Apple snails, Wild pigs, and Hornbills are some of the exotic animal species you can see in Hawaii, and they mainly reside at zoos and sanctuaries.
The Most Dangerous Hawaii Animals
The majority of Hawaii’s animal species are no threat to humans, but some can be fatally dangerous; they mostly live in the ocean surrounding the archipelago, but a few can be found on land too.
One of the most dangerous creatures in Hawaii, the box jellyfish is venomous. Also called marine stingers and sea wasps, box jellyfish have tentacles covered in barbed stingers, which help them to live on a diet of shrimp and small fish.
The venom of the jellyfish is potentially fatal to humans. They have toxins that harm the human heart – if stung by a box jellyfish, your body will go into shock, and you could drown as a result; it could also cause heart failure.
Those who survive are known to experience agonising pain spanning for weeks. However, lifeguards in Hawaii are quite meticulous and they close off the beaches if any box jellyfish are spotted. Always remember to speak to your hotel staff before going for a swim at the beaches.
Long-Spined Venomous Sea Urchin
Although small, the long-spined venomous sea urchin is dangerous. They hide among corals and attach themselves to rocks and other surfaces in the ocean. Unfortunately for surfers, the sea urchins are commonplace in the most popular surfing spots.
While not fatal, the sea urchin spine can get lodged in your foot, and it can be hard to remove, although it will dissolve eventually.
This seemingly innocuous creature is quite lethal. You can find around 34 types of cone snails in Hawaii, but not all of them are poisonous – they all look pretty much the same, so it’s best not to touch them.
Tiger sharks are among the most dangerous creatures in the Pacific Ocean. Their snout resembles a tiger’s mouth, and their torsos are striped. Their sense of smell is strong, and they have excellent sight, which is what makes them a top predator.
They are quite ruthless and not very picky when it comes to their diet – tiger sharks don’t just attack humans; they are quite partial to human flesh, which has earned them the name man-eater!
Recommended reading: Sharks of Hawaii
Great White Shark
The largest sea predator in the world, the great white shark is responsible for most shark attacks. They have knife like teeth and an excellent sense of smell coupled with extraordinary vision. Their diet mainly consists of crustaceans, sea birds, seals, and sea lions.
Great white sharks often mistake surfers and swimmers for seals, and they like to bite humans just to see if it’s a worthwhile meal.
While great white sharks seem to like the Hawaiian waters, they are less frequently seen than tiger sharks – which is not really reassuring, so be extremely careful and follow safety guidelines.
Moray eels are some of the most dangerous animals in the Pacific, and there are about 80 types of moray eels. They are quite shy and hide among rocks, but if you are unlucky enough to chance upon them, you are in danger of getting bitten – a woman was bitten by a moray eel in 2018; the bite was nasty.
Also, they have sharp teeth and bulging eyes, so they can give you quite a fright.
While snakes are a rare sight in Hawaii, the yellow-bellied snake has its habitat in the waters that surround the islands. While not fatal, their venom is poisonous to humans, but an encounter with them is rare as they like to stay out of sight.
Brown Violin Spider
One of the dangerous creatures that live on land, brown violin spiders are quite distinctive and can easily be identified because of the markings on their back that make them look like a violin.
They are defensive and can bite humans if they are in close range; the bite isn’t fatal, but it can cause pain, vomiting, and dizziness.
They like to hang around in their little hidey-hole, so steer clear of sheds and dark corners.
Related: Are there Alligators in Hawaii
Where Can I See Hawaiian Animals?
Hawaii abounds in natural beauty, which is encapsulated by Hawaii’s zoos and animal sanctuaries. If you are an animal lover, you might fancy visiting these places.
Honolulu Zoo, Oahu
Spread over 400 acres, Honolulu Zoo is a shelter for 300 different animal species. With four habitat zones – Tropical Forest, Pacific Islands, African Savannah, and Children’s Zoo – the zoo homes reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Waikiki Aquarium, Oahu
With a history going back to 1904, Waikiki Aquarium is one of the oldest aquariums in the US. The aquarium is home to over 3,500 living organisms.
Panaewa Rainforest Zoo, Big Island
One of the primary tourist attractions on the Big Island, Panaewa Rainforest Zoo is the only tropical zoo in the country. You can see an array of animals here, including the white Bengal tiger, lemur, and spider monkey.
Maui Ocean Center
With its main attraction, a 54-feet tunnel called The Open Ocean, Maui Ocean Centre offers an incredible experience for tourists. The tank holds 750,000 gallons and creates a habitat for stingrays, sharks, manta rays, and a variety of tropical fish.
Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animal Sanctuary, Big Island
Visit Three Ring Ranch Exotic Animals Sanctuary to see a diverse selection of exotic animals in one place. The Golden Zebra with blue eyes and gold stripes is the main highlight. Born in 1998, she was brought to Hawaii from Molokai as a rescue; she also happens to be the third zebra of her kind in history.
Kualoa Ranch, Oahu
With a range of activities on offer, Kualoa Ranch is a petting zoo. The place offers horseback rides and boat rides to glimpse marine animals like dolphins, manta rays, and sea turtles. This working cattle ranch is situated on 4,000 acres of land.
Leilani Farm Sanctuary, Maui
Leilani Farm Sanctuary is a wildlife rescue located in Haiku-Pauwela; the farmland is not only a refuge for Hawaii animals but also an educational centre for the community.
Pacific Primate Sanctuary
This sanctuary is home to around 70 primates that have all been injured or abandoned. Tamarins, Spider monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, and Marmosets are residents of the sanctuary.
Recommended reading: Does Hawaii have Mosquitoes?
Things Animal Lovers Can Do In Hawaii
There are plenty of things animal lovers can do in Hawaii. Visiting zoos and animal sanctuaries are the best things to do if you want to see a variety of Hawaiian animals without having to move around too much; however, if you are feeling a little adventurous, you can sign up for a snorkelling or diving excursion.
A medley of water excursions are available for animal lovers, and, of course, dolphin and whale watching tours take precedence.
While Hawaii offers loads of fun, especially for animal lovers and adventurers, you need to be a responsible tourist when touring Hawaii. The resources of the archipelago have become quite thin as a result of the pandemic, and the Hawaiian ecosystem is fragile and needs protection.
As a tourist, there are several things you can do to minimise your carbon footprint and safeguard the vulnerable natural resources and the near-extinct wildlife species of Hawaii.
To bring down the environmental impact, opt for eco-friendly accommodation whenever you can. When engaging in water activities like snorkelling, do not touch the reefs and wear reef-friendly sunscreen.
Furthermore, if you are travelling with kids, do not let them out of sight, and exercise a little cultural sensitivity while you are here.