Skip to primary navigation Skip to content Skip to footer

Niihau & Lehua Crater Sea Life

The reef around Lehua Crater is in excellent condition, with little traffic and disruption to its natural state. Coral reefs offer the best snorkeling opportunities as they are feeding grounds for many varieties of reef fish and other marine life species. Coral reef systems are mostly made up of calcium, but the outermost layers of the coral are actually alive. Therefore, coral should never be touched as it damages the living organisms and can also cause deep cuts very easily. 

The dramatic underwater landscape of Lehua, with excellent reef structure, unusual rock formations, and deep drop-offs, provides nutrient-rich waters where fish congregate. While on our snorkel tour at Lehua crater, you will commonly encounter large schools of brightly colored fish, including pyramid, milletseed, and pennant butterflyfish. Many other butterflyfish frequent the area, including raccoon, fourspot, longnose and the saddleback. Other colorful reef fish nearby include wrasses, tangs, and bandit angelfish. Wrasses are bright, multicolored fish, known to set up cleaning stations where they will clean larger fish, eating parasites. They are often neon yellow, blue, orange, purple, and black.

Scorpionfish, also known as Hawaiian turkeyfish, or lionfish, are a very colorful fish easily recognizable by its feather-like multicolored spines. These spines are poisonous and should not be touched. Trumpetfish are long and skinny fish that often change color from bright yellow to green or light blue. They can grow up to three feet long, but most are smaller.

Colorful Fish are Just the Beginning!

In addition to a great variety of reef fish, you may be lucky enough to encounter some bigger marine life that frequent the area on our Niihau tour. Manta rays are a special treat for snorkelers; not to be confused with stingrays, manta rays are large, flat, cautious creatures without a stinger. Consider yourself lucky if you get to encounter a manta ray or the spotted eagle ray that are common in the waters around Niihau.

The Hawaiian Monk Seal is frequently spotted around Lehua crater. It is one of the rarest marine mammals in the world. They average around seven feet in length and weigh between 300-600 pounds. They, along with the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, are the only native mammals to Hawaii. Fewer than 1,500 monk seals remain, so you are lucky to spot one. They feed on lobsters, octopus, eels, flatfish, and other small reef fish and small invertebrates. They can dive up to 500 feet and remain underwater for twenty minutes at a time.

Sea turtles are common in the area and are easily spotted while snorkeling, but should not be disturbed, as they are a protected species.

Octopuses are difficult to spot because most are adept at camouflaging with their surroundings. Some hide during the day, some hunt by day. They eat shrimp, fish, crabs, and mollusks. They will squirt ink to confuse predators and have strong beaks that can bite humans, so it is best not to approach them.

Dolphins, Whales and Sharks, Oh My!

Sharks are rarely seen on our snorkeling Niihau tour, but have no fear, because contrary to their reputation, the species we typically encounter are very shy and will avoid snorkelers. Small white-tip and black-tip reef sharks hang near reefs and prefer shallow water, so these are the variety most likely to be seen. A rare encounter with a whale shark has occurred; these massive, gentle creatures can get up to forty feet long, they aren’t spotted often so definitely grab the camera if one shows up.

Dolphins are seen daily on our tours, usually while in route. It is not very often that these playful creatures come visit us while we are snorkeling; they prefer to chase the boat while it is in motion. The Hawaiian spinner dolphins are spotted regularly and get their name for the incredible acrobatics they perform. They swim fast and propel themselves out of the water, leaping several feet in the air and often completing several rotations before splashing back to the surface. They are very social animals; they swim in large pods of 200 at times. Bottlenose dolphins are spotted frequently as well, one of the larger dolphin species; they can reach a length of twelve feet. Other dolphin species that are in Hawaiian waters include beaked dolphins, rough-toothed dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, striped dolphins, and Fraser’s dolphins.

While crossing the deep channel between Kauai and Niihau, we may encounter many varieties of whales as well. The false killer whale is found in groups of ten to twenty whales and can reach fifteen to twenty feet in length. The short-finned pilot whale has a bulbous melon head and can reach up to 24 feet in length. The melon-headed whale is around nine feet in length and prefers deeper waters and is often found in large groups of over 1,000 in a pod. Other whales periodically spotted in Hawaii include blue whales, fin whales, and several varieties of killer whales, sperm whales, and beaked whales.

Humpback whales are common in Hawaiian waters from December to April every year. They migrate from Alaska, where they spend their summers feeding, to warm waters of the Pacific every year to mate and have their babies. They are routinely spotted during the winter months, performing breaches, blows, tail slaps, and other activity visible on the surface.