The ultimate fantasy of visitors to Kauai would be swimming with the dolphins in the wild in the waters off Hawaii. The Hawaiian name for dolphin is nai'`a, and refers to all species of dolphins found in Hawaiian waters. Four species of dolphins are regularly found in the waters around Hawaii. They are the Pacific bottlenose dolphin, the Rough-toothed dolphin, the Spotted dolphin and the Spinner dolphin. Other dolphin species have been known to pass through the islands but are relatively rare.
The two most popular species of dolphins located in Hawaiian waters are the bottlenose dolphins and the spinner dolphins. Spinner dolphins are the smallest of Hawaii's common dolphins. They are generally between five and six feet in length and weigh 130 to 200 pounds. Hawaii has its own subspecies that is easy to recognize by its distinctive "three-tone" color pattern which consists of a sharply defined dark gray "cape" on their backs, a stripe of lighter gray on their sides and a white or pink belly. This species gets its name from its spectacular habit of leaping high into the air and spinning several times on their tails before falling back into the water. Researchers are not sure why the dolphins spin, but most people who have had the opportunity to watch the dolphins don't seem to mind, and find it a real treat. Around Hawaii, spinner dolphins congregate at night in large herds in the deep channels between the islands to feed. During the day, they break up into smaller groups and come near shore to rest and play. A few of the places where they can commonly be seen are in Kealake'akua Bay on the island of Hawaii, off the Leeward Coast of Oahu, on the southern boundries of Maui and off the coastline of Lanai.
The life cycle of dolphins is similar to that of other cetaceans. As mammals, dolphins bear live young and the mothers nurse them on milk and provide care. A dolphin calf is born tail-first with eyes open, senses alert and enough muscular coordination to follow its mother immediately. At birth, the mother helps her calf to the surface to get its first breath. While nursing lasts between one and a half to two years, the mother will remain with her calf for a period between three and eight years. There is some variation in the age at which sexual maturity is reached, the reproduction rate and the life expectancy among the different species of dolphins. Most species tend to bear one calf every other year or so during their reproductively active years and are believed to have an average life expectancy of about thirty years.
As anyone who has had the opportunity to watch dolphins perform in a show can attest, dolphins have an impressive ability to learn and imitate behaviors, often for what appears the sheer pleasure of doing so. This observation, together with their large brain size, has led to numerous studies of dolphin intelligence. Dolphins' brains are about the size of our own. *Much of the information found above was provided by Earthtrust and the Hawaii Department of Education.