Honaunau – Swimming With The Dolphins
If you are an experienced snorkeller and enjoy swimming in deep water, one of the best places to swim with dolphins in the wild on the Big Island of Hawaii is at Honaunau. Before going there be sure to check the surf report by calling the weather line at 961-5582, if there is a high surf warning wait for another day.
On the Kona side of the island drive down Highway 11 and turn at Highway 160 towards the ocean and Pu’uhonua o Honaunau National Historical Park, better known as the Place of Refuge. Just before the entrance to the park turn right, down the one way road across from a small school. Free parking is along the road when available, if not available there is a dirt parking lot on the right just after you turn onto the one way road. There is a wooden box on a tree where the fee of a few dollars can be deposited, it is the honor system and the money is donated to a small church nearby. You will know that you are at the right place by the flat lava rock type beach where you will see lots of people sitting and in the water. Spinner dolphins pass through this area quite frequently, it is not garanteed that you will see them as they are wild and there are no tour guides involved.
Spinner dolphins are one of the two most popular dophins found in the waters of Hawaii. They are also the smallest of Hawaii’s common dolphins, between five and six feet in length and weigh 130 to 200 pounds. Hawaii has its own subspecies that can be recognized by its tri-color, silvery pattern consisting of a dark gray on their backs, a stripe of lighter gray on their sides and a white belly. They get there name from their amazing habit of leaping out of the water and spinning many times in the air on their tails before falling back in! Dolphins are very social creatures that depend on social interaction for the purposes of hunting prey, defense and reproduction. Spinner dolphins tend to form long-lasting groups that range in size from as many as 40 which is called a pod and they tend to feed at night on smaller species found in deeper waters.
They are also known to have rigid hierarchies of power with a few individuals considered dominant. Large groups can be mixed in age and sex, while smaller groups are usually of three types. The nuclear group, consisting of one adult male and female, the nursery group, consisting of a number of females and children and the bachelor group consisting of adult and younger males. The interesting thing is that all dolphins seem to work together as a team when either finding food, mates or caring for their children. Dolphins feed mainly on schools of prey and most species search for food as a group which is better than searching alone and allows them to scan a larger area.
Our latest encounter took place in March of 2008 when we were on our annual vacation to The Big Island. When we arrived at Hounaunau about 10:00 a.m. we saw the dolphins swimming in the bay and swam out about 100 feet to where they were. The water is so deep that you can not see the bottom, just the rays of the sun shining into the beautiful deep blue abiss. There were 2 pods, 41 dophins in total including several babies. They were so beautiful, and seem to submerge rather than swim up towards us. They were very sociable, staying close to the surface of the water and interacting with us quite a bit, all the while chattering amongst themselves.
Some of them were swimming together, belly to belly. They seemed to be in pairs and the young were always swimming close to an adult. They would always make sure they were between us and their young when approching us. Some of them would look right into our eyes when they came up beside us. It was an incredible experience so if you are lucky enough to be there when the dolphins come in, this is a totally natural experience and you should consider yourself to be very fortunate. Please remember that certain etiquette applies when swimming with dolphins; do not touch them, it can put them at risk and it is illegal. The slimy coating on a dolphin protects it from infection and is easily rubbed off with a hand, glove or foot. Don’t use gloves when snorlelling, this will reduce the temptation to touch and also remember that any wild animal can bite, body slam or pull you underwater if feeling threatened.