The Big Island – Ocean Tour (and Dolphins)

30 07 2007

When in Hawaii, one of the activities you must do is take an ocean tour. The sea is such a huge part of the culture and daily life in Hawaii that not doing something on the water is like going to New York and not seeing the Statue of Liberty. Most outfits do the same thing – they take you out on a boat, take you 1 or 2 places to go snorkeling, view sealife, and maybe check out some sea caves. There are two main kinds of boats – huge party boats that provide a big lunch or dinner with booze and are crammed with 30 people OR small boats with fewer people on a more personal tour. Most companies provide the snorkeling equipment, but you can also bring your own.

Dolphin Discoveries Boat

Even though the large boats had bathrooms, we chose to go with the smaller boats. We did our ocean tour with Dolphin Discoveries (DD) on the recommendation of a few people on the Tripadvisor Hawaii forum. DD takes you to the two best snorkel sites on the island, the Captain Cook monument and the Place of Refuge, and each tour has less than a dozen people.

Near the Captain Cook Monument

Near Captain Cook

The snorkeling here is incredible!  We spent about 45 minutes at the Captain Cook monument.  We saw a fish that looked like it was made of rainbow sherbet, lots of bright yellow fish, brain corral, and many other beautiful reef dwellers.  After that, we moved to the Place of Refuge for about 30 minutes, where we saw dozens of turtles all hanging out, and Charles and I also managed to get a glimpse of a white tip reef shark before it zoomed back into the deeper parts of the ocean.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have an underwater camera and I was too chicken to use the underwater bag for my camera.

A friendly honu, the sea turtle seen all over the island, shot with my regular above water camera.


Now I will take a moment to say a word about dolphins.  I know everyone wants to see a dolphin and secretly wants to frolic in the water with them and maybe even pet or ride one.  Heck, I am one of those people who would really love to do that.  However, we have to remember that we need to respect dolphins and that when we are in the water we are in their territory and habitat.  You should not chase dolphins (actually it’s against the law) and should try to do the least harm as possible.  Companies that chase dolphins only hurt the very animals they seek.  That being said, there are several reputable companies out there that are respectful of nature and wildlife but you may still get to see dolphins.

When you go on an ocean tour, there is a big chance you won’t see a dolphin.  The big rise in snorkeling and kayaking has disturbed many of the dolphin resting places near the island coasts, which is why preservation of their habitat is so important.  However, you still get to snorkel in two of the most amazing underwater sites, see lots and lots of turtles, and other wild sealife.  Think of the ocean tour as a sealife/nature tour in which dolphins may appear.  If they do appear, it is that much more special!

We were incredibly lucky because as we were leaving the Place of Refuge after snorkeling, one of our fellow boaters spotted a spinner dolphin.  Our captain stopped the engine completely so that we were completely quiet and still on the water.  Then we saw two more dolphins, and four more, and then what looked like hundreds of dolphins slowly making their way into the dolphin sanctuary that is just to the left of the Place of Refuge.  Apparently dolphins “sleep” in this sanctuary, although they use it less often than they used to.  2-3 dolphins were still not completely asleep, though, because they spun through the air.  Their bellies were pink, and they were SO CUTE!  Even though I had prepared myself for the possibility that we would not see any dolphins, I was SUPER excited to them.  They really made my day/week/month!

I am not the fastest photographer, though, so this is the only good picture I have of my dolphin experience.  It’s still proof I saw these wonderful creatures though!

Spinner Dolphins

After our dolphin experience, everyone on the boat was pumped to see more sea creatures so we drove around.  The captain followed the flight of a seabird and we were zooming through the water.  Then, someone spotted something in the water – a pod of pilot whales!  Madame Pele must have been smiling down on us that day because we had such an amazing experience seeing all the different life in the ocean.

Pilot Whales

I know I have used amazing and incredible a lot in this post, but this was really one of the best experiences of my life.

Next: Waipio Valley




One response

30 06 2009
Phillip Lopez

What type of boat do you have in the 1st picture

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