Article: Wild Hawaii, The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Hawai‘i’ is among the most isolated archipelagos on Earth. This isolation created a unique biogeography, and our native wildlife, both marine and land-based, reflect our islands’ unique place in the tropical ocean. Hawai‘i has no native land mammals save for the diminutive Hawaiian Hoary Bat, a reclusive and rarely seen creature.

Our nearshore waters provide habitat for a number of marine mammals – whales, dolphins, and the endangered Hawaiian Monk Seal. Hawai‘i is also home to sea turtles, dozens of seabird species, and a host of distinctive endemic forest birds, which are found nowhere else on earth but within our shrinking native forests.

Catching a glimpse of these marine visitors and native inhabitants is typically more difficult than in other places where animals are larger and populations are more numerous. But for those wildlife enthusiasts willing to get a little off the beaten path, the reward may include an encounter with some of the rarest creatures on the planet.


For most people, encountering a shark face-to-face is not on the top of their list of things to do while swimming in the ocean. However, there is a tremendous upside in seeing these fascinating predators in person rather than on the TV or a movie theater screen. You may even begin to qualm any fears or debunk popular myths that you may have about sharks. With Discovery Channel’s Shark Week on the horizon, now is the perfect time to visit Maui Ocean Center to encounter sharks and learn about their true nature in our ocean ecosystem.

There are 41 distinct species of shark in Hawaii’s warm Pacific Ocean. As far as we know, these are the most dangerous: Tiger Sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier); Great White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias); Galapagos Sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis); Bull Sharks (Carcharhinus leucas); Mako Sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus; Isurus paucus); and Hammerhead Sharks (Sphyrna zygaena; Sphyrna lewini). Of the other 35 species, most are smaller reef sharks, and some have bitten people, but those mentioned above are ones to be concerned with in Hawaii. Identification of a shark as one of the less harmful species does not mean you should fail to take it seriously when in the water. Do be careful with every shark, they all have large mouths, many teeth, and can cause significant wound damage with a bite.

The most frequently encountered Hawaiian reef sharks?

The White Tipped Reef Shark, Scalloped Hammerhead Shark, Tiger Shark, Galapagos Shark, Gray Reef Shark, and the Sandbar Shark. The Tiger Shark and the Galapagos Shark are the most aggressive of the Hawaiian reef sharks. The other known Hawaii sharks don’t typically attack for any reason, but when provoked or when blood is in the water from spear-fishing, anything goes. Hawaii reef sharks can be aggressive, but they usually need blood in the water to become dangerous.