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Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle swimming underwater in Maui, Hawaii

As one of the most isolated land masses in the world, there are many species of wildlife that can only be found in Hawaii. There’s no doubt that visitors will want to catch a glimpse of as many of the unique animals, on land and sea, as they can during their visit. So what wildlife should you be on the lookout for during a Maui tour?

Honu – Hawaiian Green Sea Turtles

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle in Maui, Hawaii

The honu is one of Maui’s most regularly seen marine creatures and one of the most appealing to visitors. The honu is one of the few true natives in the Hawaiian Islands. Green sea turtles as we know them now developed roughly 40-50 million years ago, making them a truly ancient species. Seen as a symbol of spiritual energy, longevity, and safety, it’s no surprise that honu often live to be over 100 years old. The Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle was once classified as an endangered species but has managed to make a dramatic increase in population. You are very likely to spot honu when taking a Maui tour, but please remember to keep your distance. These creatures are still listed as endangered, and a minimum distance of 10 feet is needed.

Kohola – Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale, Maui, Hawaii

Some visitors specifically plan their trip around whale season to be sure to catch the wondrous sigh of the humpback whale or kohola. Every year, over 10,000 whales travel from Alaska to the warm seas of Hawaii to give birth and nurse their young. They may be found in Hawaii’s waters from November to April, and they seem to prefer the shallow passages surrounding Maui Nui. In Hawaiian culture, humpback whales are held in high respect. Whales are regarded to represent aumakua, or physical manifestations of an ancestor’s soul, as well as the animal form of Kanaloa, Hawaii’s ocean god. 

Nai’a – Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins

Spinner dolphins in Hawaii

Often found in the warm shallow bays surrounding Hawaii, the nai’a, or Hawaiian spinner dolphins are both beautiful and friendly. While there are actually four species of spinner dolphins, the nai’a can be spotted easily thanks to their pink or white belly, dark gray stripe on their backs, light gray stripes on their sides, triangle-shaped dorsal fin, and thin beak. If you’re lucky, you may even see a few nai’a tagging along with the humpback whales! It is important to remember to never throw anything at or attempt to feed these sea creatures, even if you want to get their attention. 

‘Ilio Holo I Ka Uaua – Hawaiian Monk Seal


Thought to have been around for millions of years, this particular species of seal is only found in Hawaii. In fact, ‘ilio holo i ka uaua is the state mammal of Hawaii. There are few left in the wild today, so these adorable seafaring mammals may be a bit more elusive than others. Though they may look cute, ‘ilio holo i ka uaua are not afraid to roar or even bite at visitors who get too close or come between a mother and her pup. They are considered a good omen in Hawaiian culture, and especially so with there being so few left in the wild. Hawaiian monk seals are federally protected animals and should not be approached within 50 feet. 

Nēnē – Hawaiian Goose

Endangered Native Hawaiian Goose nene

Hawaii’s state bird, nēnē, or Hawaiian Goose, is the only remaining species of Hawaiian goose that remains out of six that once existed on the islands. It is believed that the nēnē migrated here thousands of years ago and by 1890, nēnē had disappeared from all islands except for Hawaii. In the 1960s, populations of nēnē were reintroduced to Maui and since then, they have reestablished themselves across all major Hawaiian islands.Taking a tour to Haleakala National Park One is sure to give you an encounter with nēnē as they are highly populated here. Remember to never feed or approach them. Only take pictures. 

Pu’eo – Hawaiian Short Eared Owl

hawaiian short eared owl Big Island Hawaii

Puʻeo is only one of two different owls that can be seen throughout the islands of Hawaii. A puʻeo sighting is considered a good omen. These Hawaiian short eared owls may be mistaken for a common barn owl, but you can tell the difference due to their smaller size and their piercing yellow eyes. They are commonly seen in Maui but are considered endangered on the island of O’ahu. These animals are considered sacred guardians that belong on both heaven and earth. 

Jackson Chameleon

Jackson's Chameleon on a tree branch in Maui, Hawaii

After being introduced to Hawaii in 1971 from Tanzania and Kenya, Jackson Chameleons established populations in Maui as well as the Big Island and O’ahu. These creatures are a sight to see, that is if you can spot one! They are masters at blending in with their environment. While the Jackson Chameleon is a fascinating sight to see, they are, unfortunately, an invasive species that tends to destroy native spiders, insects, and snails. Nevertheless, they should be left alone as it is illegal to transport them between islands. 

See These Maui Animals and More on a Maui Tour!

Taking a guided tour is one of the best ways to see a variety of wildlife thriving here on the island. Being part of a guided tour will also help ensure that you do no harm to any of the animals or their habitats, so long as you follow the advice of your tour guide. The islands belong to these animals as much as it does to the kama’aina and visitors. Valley Isle Excursions offer Maui tours that will take you down the Road to Hāna or up to Haleakalā National Park where you will have the opportunity to see many of the wildlife listed above. Visit the website to book your tour today!

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