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Sea Life on Kauai’s Napali Coast

The Hawaiian spinner dolphin frequents the waters along the Napali Coast. On our Kauai boat tours we usually encounter pods with over a hundred dolphins at one time. They average six feet in length. They typically feed at night, eating the fish, shrimp and squid that reside in the deep ocean during the day but come to the surface at night. They are mostly spotted during the morning hours because they are transitioning from foraging at night to rest during the day, and they become very social during this transition time, often displaying the aerial leaps and spins from which they were named. They reside in shallow coastal waters during the day to rest and socialize, they prefer sandy bottoms to be better aware of predators.

Snorkeling along the Napali Coast provides an excellent opportunity to view the best of Kauai’s marine life. Many reef fish are abundant in the area.

A Kaleidoscope of Colorful Fish

Parrotfish, or uhu, are common reef fish in Hawaii, they are also creators of sand. They feed on coral polyps, grinding up the coral with their powerful beak, thus its name-sake, and sand is the byproduct of them feeding. They are dramatically colored, ranging from blue, green, turquoise, yellow, lavender, and/or orange, with many variations. Females tend to be more reddish brown, while males are the most colorful. They change color at different times in their lives and can also change sex as needed.

Members of the wrasse family are abundant along Kauai reefs, many in vibrant shades of pinks and blues, to more subtle blue, green, and orange.

Needlefish are very common, they are silvery-blue fish that often swim near the surface. The kala, nicknamed “unicornfish” for its protruding forehead, is only a foot or two long and dark green.

Butterflyfish are abundant in Hawaii and the favorite of many snorkelers for their brilliant colors. Many butterflyfish have black spots across the eyes and near the tail, and it is speculated to be there to confuse predators of which way the fish are going. They are typically bright yellow, white, orange, black and sometimes a little blue or red. There are many different varieties of butterflyfish, but the most common found in Hawaii include: raccoon, ornate, threadfin, saddleback, lemon, bluestripe, fourspot, milletseed, teardrop and forceps, also known as longnose.

Triggerfish include the Picasso, or lagoon, lei, reef, pinktail, black, and checkerboard. They range in color, can be black, white, pink, yellow, or blue.

Filefish are unique looking with blue scribbles and brown dots on its olive-green colored body.

Surgeonfish varieties include spotted, orangeband, Achilles tang, common yellow, sailfin, eyestripe, and goldrim.

Reefs provide perfect shelters for turtles, allowing them to bob at the surface and search for food. They can go hours without air, but only while they are dozing. The rest of the time they must lift their heads to breathe every few minutes, making them easy to spot along the coast. Hawksbill and green sea turtle, known as honu, are the two turtle species found in this area. They are both endangered species and protected by law, it is illegal to touch or harass sea turtles, and other marine creatures. Large turtles may be up to 100 years old and appear docile and unafraid of snorkelers.

Look, but Don’t Touch Kauai Marine Life

Some fish and other marine animals have teeth, pinchers, or stingers, but most are not aggressive towards people. Do not touch or attempt to touch any sea creature, including coral, these are live animals and should be respected by keeping your distance.

When snorkeling during one of our tours, our crew will get in the water first to assess the area for ocean currents and any hazards that may be present, including dangerous marine life. However, when you choose to enter the ocean, you must understand the potential risks.

Portuguese Man-o’-War is a floating marine jellyfish, only a few inches long. It is not easily spotted, as it is a translucent, blue or purple bubble, easily camouflaged in the blue waters of Kauai. Its tentacles contain thousands of small poison-filled stinging cells designed to paralyze tiny fish and other prey. If it brushes against your skin is causes an intense sting and burning sensation, lasting for hours. Vinegar is used to alleviate pain or rubbing the affected area with wet sand helps remove tentacles.

There are a few poisonous fish to be aware of that can cause pain or an allergic reaction if you touch their spine. Lionfish, also known as turkeyfish, and scorpionfish should be avoided. Sting rays are not commonly sighted while snorkeling, but often hide on the sea floor so you are more likely to step on it than have it swim next to you while snorkeling.

Some eels are known to hide in crevices of reef and rocks where they enjoy feeding on fish, crabs, and other small prey. Never reach into small holes or cracks because they have sharp teeth and powerful jaws that could easily amputate a finger. They are not usually aggressive unless they feel threatened.

Spiny sea urchins should not be touched, they are covered in sharp, brittle, needle-like spines that can break off easily and become embedded in your skin.

Cone shells are decorated with brown or black patterns, a large cone shape, they look harmless, however the snails that inhabit these shells have a poisonous “dart” used to shoot venom and paralyze or kill their prey.

Sharks are common in Hawaiian waters, but they do not usually pose a threat to swimmers or snorkelers. The most common sharks that are spotted are sandbar, black-tip reef, white-tip reef, and hammerhead sharks—all tend to be very timid and will avoid snorkelers.


Niihau + Napali Super Tour

7 Hours · Niihau, Lehua Crater and the Napali Coast

What a day! No other company offers this amazing trip. Our premier trip aboard Holo Holo begins with a continental breakfast as we head west and north to the majestic Napali Coast with waterfalls, lush valleys, and sea caves.

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